Lammas is the first of the many harvest festivals of autumn (Shavuot, autumn equinox, Michaelmas, Thanksgiving). It falls on August 1, halfway between the height of the sun at summer solstice and the midpoint of autumn equinox, when light and dark are evenly balanced. At this time of the year we’re starting to notice the decline of the sun. It’s the time in the Northwest when the first leaves begin to fall.
Lammas celebrates the first harvest of wheat and the transformation mysteries that turn grain into both bread and beer. The grain dies, but gives us what we need (bread and beer) to get us through the dark nights of winter. The name Lammas comes from “loaf mass” and refers to the tradition of bringing the first loaves baked from the newly harvested wheat to the church to be blessed.
The Celts call this holiday Lughnasa. The story goes that the god Lugh began this festival as a funeral feast for his mother and as an athletic competition like the Olympic Games. The ceremonies included harvesting the first corn (or grain) and eating bilberries. As blackberries are usually ripe around this time in Seattle, I like to go on a blackberry-picking expedition during the first days of August. Then I can turn the fruit I’ve gathered into preserves, as a way of preserving the sweetness of summer.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”
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