Harvest time already? First fruits come forth in Lammas, Lughnasadh

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THURSDAY, AUGUST 1: An ancient harvest festival resurfaces today—as Christians give thanks during Lammas Day and Pagan groups observe Lughnasadh. The first day of August traditionally has been associated with a wheat festival in England and Scotland and other related communities from that part of the world. This harvest festival is an important time of transition as grains mature in the fields and farmers begin harvesting for the winter.

EXOTIC NOW? NOT FOR SHAKESPEARE: Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare could make casual reference to Lammas to underscore a major theme in the tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare refers to Juliet’s birthday as Lammas Eve and tells us that she will be 14 as that festival approaches, again. In Shakespeare’s day, audiences knew that was a reference to celebrating the summer’s full bounty. However, as Shakespeare fans know to this day, Juliet never reaches that fateful Lammas and, thus, never reaches the fullness of her life.

ADAPTING ANCIENT TRADITIONS: Today, the holidays are resurfacing in popular culture across the Western world. In 1999, Meryl Streep co-starred in Dancing At Lughnasa, a bittersweet movie (based on a Tony-winning play) about unmarried sisters in 1930s Ireland. Contemporary Pagan groups now market a host of Lughnasadh-themed products from T-shirts and votive candles to special blends of herbs, grains and spices for the harvest festival. (Note: Spellings of the ancient holiday vary and, while the play and movie drop the final “dh,” most groups use the full spelling as in our headline today.)

GREEN and ECO-FRIENDLY: Worldwide, the term “Lammas” is more likely to be associated with green, eco-friendly sustainable events and projects. This might take the form of casual potluck picnics or might be as ambitious and utopian as the Lammas Ecovillage in West Wales.

BRING A LOAF TO CHURCH: Traditionally, Lammas was the season of the wheat harvest and families would bring their first loaf of bread to church for a blessing—although those loaves often became part of pre-Christian customs. One tradition was to place pieces of the blessed bread around the corners of a barn to prevent forces that might ruin crops stored in side.

RECIPES? There are lots of “Lammas” recipes floating around the Internet, usually involving wheat or, in some cases, corn and other grains. We recommend that you check out our new Read The Spirit department, called Feed The Spirit, hosted by food writer Bobbie Lewis. Near mid-summer, Bobbie wrote a column about Stonehenge and included a Wiccan Magic Cake recipe, which is absolutely delicious.

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)