Lammas festival on the 1st of August marks the beginning of the harvest. What's
interesting about Lammas tide and the 7 other special Celtic days, is the way they give
the year structure, and also how they help to shape the pattern of the year.
The key to understanding these traditions is realising Lammas, means 'Loaf
The Lamas festival on the 1st of August is significant because it falls
nearly midway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. The
other cross-quarter days correspond to the festivals of Candlemas (Imbolc),
Beltane (May Day), and Halloween.
Our ancestor weren't as precise as modern astronomers in
calculating these cross-quarter dates. Furthermore, the exact date of
Lammas was often
fine-tuned to harvesting conditions prevalent at a particular latitude.
Actual Cross-quarter Dates
- Feb 4 Imbolc (Candlemas)
- May 5 Beltane (May day)
- Aug 7 Lammas Tide
- Nov 7 Samhain (Halloween)
Lammas, or Lughnasadh, was one of the four main festivals of the medieval
Celtic calendar. Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane and Samhain being the
other three. Whereas Candlemas is derived from 'Candle mass', the meaning of
Lammas is not obvious until you see the two words: loaf mass. Given
that this festival marks the start of the wheat harvest, then the beauty and logic of
the Saxon word Lammas (Hlaf maesse or Leff messe) falls into place.
At the heart of the Lammas celebration was a religious service using bread made from the harvest's first flour.
What obscures many of these ancient carnivals is the way the earliest
Christian evangelists incorporated pagan festivals into Christian
celebrations; 'All Saints' an Halloween is another good example of
Christianisation of ancient festivals.
In Celtic mythology the Lammas ritual was based on a funeral feast where the Sun God Lugh
(hence Lughnasadh), commemorated his
foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after preparing tirelessly
for the harvest. Thus the festival revolves around bread made from the
first wheat grains of this year's harvest. Incidentally, the fruits of
August would have been conceived by the gods at Beltane in May.
If you study other ancient European religions, especially those of the
Celts, then you will find parallel names, traditions and folk tales around
1st of August, for example,
Lughnasadh (Irish), L´┐Żnasdal (Scottish) and Calan
Awst (Welsh). There also is a modern take on the festival of Lammas
with the play, 'Dancing at Lughnasa'.
Other Traditions Peripheral to Lammas
- Handfasting, or trial marriages were particularly common at Lammas.
Once the harvest was over, then young farmers could think of taking a
bride. If the partnership did not work out they split up, else the
lovers got married. This practice was also known as a Tailltean
marriage, which lasted for a year and a day until the next Lammas.
- Farmers presented their workers with white gloves. Perhaps
this had the practical use of keeping the flour clean as they ground the
- We don't think of tax collecting as a tradition, but when you think
about collecting taxes has been with us since time immemorial. In
Scotland the association of Lammas with collecting dues lingered into
the 18th century.
- Although Lammas is associated with the wheat harvest, it was also
the more general sense of, 'Feast of first fruits'. Indeed, in
Ireland potatoes are harvested at this time, and the first Sunday after
Lughnasa was known as 'Cally' Sunday.
- August is a great time for country fairs, for example, 'The Puck
Fair', in Killorglin, County Kerry, Ireland. King Puck himself is
- In medieval times Lammas was known as the "Gule of August", however
the meaning of "gule" has been lost in the sands of time.
- The 6th of August is referred to Old Lammas or Lammas O.S. ("Old
Style"). It was significant in the Zodiac, and symbolises the Lion
the other three tetramorph figures are the Bull, the Eagle, and the
- Morris Dancers never miss a chance break out their melodeon and bash
sticks their sticks, Lammas tide is no exception.
- See more about Lammas traditions.
It has to be said that in modern times the 'Corn Dolly' is mainly associated with the END
of the harvest, rather than the beginning. However, our ancestors felt
less restricted by such conventions and they probably made Harvest Queens,
or Kern Babies throughout the harvest season.
How to Make a Corn Dolly
I still feel guilty picking 20 wheat stems out of the 20 zillion stalks
in the field. Even though he is not there, I can sense the farmer's
hackles rising, 'Damn Townies - they'll leave the gate open'. Of
course I don't even open the gate preferring to climb over the nearby style.
- Once I bring the wheat stalks home, I strip off any leaves, just
leaving the beautiful heads and the long stalks.
- Next I soak the straw in water for at least 20 minutes. Before
I start work, I stand the straws in an empty flower vase to dry.
- Now I am ready for the real work. I tie five straws together
close up by the ears.
- I take one of the straws and fold it across over two corners.
Then I take the next straw and repeat the weaving, until I have folded all five.
- With skill and a little luck an attractive spiral pattern grows as
round succeeds round.
- You could practice with three-straw version, see picture above
- Once you get the idea, be creative and develop your own variations.
Here is where you can buy a ready-made corn dolly
Corn Rigs By Robert Burns
Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget
that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!
Please send us your Lammas tide traditions.
Calendar of special day events, days of celebration:
• Special day today
Memorial Day •
Grand National •
Trafalgar Day •
Midsummer's Day •
Festival days •
Father's day •
Lady Day •
Earth Day •
• 4th of July •
Pamplona Bulls •
Blackberry day •
Tomatina Spain •
Friday 13th superstitions