Lammas means “loaf-mass” in Anglo-Saxon.
The focus was on either the early harvest aspect or the celebration of the Celtic god Lugh.
August 1 is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which just began to be harvested.
After the grain is harvested, it is milled and baked into bread, which is then consumed. It is the cycle of the harvest come full circle.
The grain dies so that the people might live. Eating this bread, the bread of the gods, gives us life. If all this sounds vaguely Christian, it should be. In the sacrament of Communion, bread is blessed, becomes the body of God and is eaten to nourish the faithful. This Christian Mystery echoes the pagan Mystery of the Grain God.
Lammas coincides with the feast of St. Peter in Chains, commemorating St. Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison.
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1.3.19), it is observed of Juliet, “Come Lammas Eve at night shall she [Juliet] be fourteen.” Since Juliet was born Lammas eve, she came before the harvest festival, which is significant since her life ended before she could reap what she had sown and enjoy the bounty of the harvest, in this case full consummation and enjoyment of her love with Romeo.
Many churches in Europe, Ireland, and the UK have lovely harvest altars, thanking God for His bounty.
We especially enjoyed visiting the Trier Cathedral Harvest Festival.
Lammas is a festival of regrets and farewells, of harvest and preserves.
- Reflect on the year in your journal or share with others around a bonfire. Lughnasa is one of the great Celtic fire-festivals.
- Look up the myths of any of the grain Gods and Goddesses and discuss with your kids, family, and friends.
- Go to a county or state fair to celebrate the end of summer, school beginning, harvest.
- Make corn dollies, herb wreaths or garlands, bake bread. Cute kids crafts here.
- Go on a nature walk and look at the changes in the trees and wildflowers.
- Sing songs and roast food over the fire.
Robert Burns published the poem John Barleycorn in 1782, and there are various modern versions:
There were three men come out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn would die
They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed, thrown clods upon his head
Till these three men were satisfied John Barleycorn was dead
Refrain: There’s beer all in the barrel and brandy in the glass
But little Sir John, with his nut-brown bowl, proved the strongest man at last
They’ve let him lie for a long long time till the rains from heaven did fall
And little Sir John sprang up his head and so amazed them all
They’ve let him stand till midsummer’s day and he looks both pale and wan
Then little Sir John’s grown a long long beard and so become a man
They’ve hired men with the sharp-edged scythes to cut him off at the knee
They’ve rolled him and tied him around the waist, treated him most barbarously
They’ve hired men with the sharp-edged forks to prick him to the heart
And the loader has served him worse than that for he’s bound him to the cart
So they’ve wheeled him around and around the field till they’ve come unto a barn
And here they’ve kept their solemn word concerning Barleycorn
They’ve hired men with the crab tree sticks to split him skin from bone
And the miller has served him worse than that for he’s ground him between two stones
And the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox nor loudly blow his horn
And the tinker he can’t mend his pots without John Barleycorn
Think of the things you meant to do this summer or this year that did not come to fruition. You can project your regrets onto natural objects like pine cones, corn husks, or paper and throw them into the fire, releasing them.
What or who is passing away from your life? What is over or completed? Say goodbye to it. As with regrets, you can find visual symbols and throw them into the fire. You can also bury them in the ground, perhaps in the form of flower bulbs which will manifest in a new form next spring.
What have you harvested this year? What seeds did you plant that are sprouting? Find a visual way to represent these, perhaps creating a decoration in your house or garden to represent this harvest to you. Make a corn dolly or learn to weave grain or grass into artistic designs.
This is also a good time for making preserves, either literally or symbolically. As you turn the summer’s fruit into jams, jellies, and chutneys for later, think about the fruits that you have gathered this year and how you can hold onto them. How can you keep them sweet in the stores of your memory?
How do you prepare your hearts for the change in season?
You might also like: