Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans observe ancient grain harvest festival


MONDAY, AUGUST 1: As the heat of July breaks into August—Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas.

An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day;” historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to church for a blessing. For many, Lammas was a time of gratitude, as the hard work of planting gave way to the bounty of the harvest.

Interested in the bread traditions of world faiths? Check out Lynne Meredith Golodner’s “The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads,” which includes recipes, photos and engaging stories of the place where bread and faith intersect.

In the Neopagan and Wiccan Wheels of the Year, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and the first of three harvest festivals (the other harvest festivals being Mabon, or autumn equinox, and Samhain). Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries. (Learn more from Some mark this festival on July 31, though it is most widely observed on the first day of August.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. (Wikipedia has details on Lammas and Lughnassadh.) Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair. For centuries, Lammas has been a time to gather wild berries—bilberries, in particular, but also blackberries and blueberries–for eating, baking and making wine.


Mothering Sunday: Mums honored by Brits and across the United Kingdom

“I’ll to thee a Simnel bring,
Gainst thou go’st a Mothering.”
Poet Robert Herrick, 17th century

SUNDAY, MARCH 15: It’s Mother’s Day in the style of Downton Abbey—across Britain and the United Kingdom, the beloved tradition known as Mothering Sunday commences. Centuries ago, the fourth Sunday of Lent was a time for families separated by work to reunite and visit the mother church, or main cathedral in the area; children often picked wildflowers on the journey home to present to their mums.

Mums across the UK are still showered with bouquets on Mothering Sunday, though greeting cards, tea houses, spas, restaurants and even horse races now also cater to the honored women.


Mothering Sunday may not have found a spot yet in the plot of the internationally acclaimed Downton Abbey series, but that doesn’t mean the Downton cast and crew isn’t well aware of the tradition: Phyllis Logan (aka “Mrs. Hughes”) was recently interviewed about her hopes for this year’s Mothering Sunday. The culinary historian who writes this food blog, with all things in the name of the Abbey, also prominently featured a recipe for Simnel cake—a popular treat for Easter and Mothering Sunday.


In 16th century England, children who worked as domestic servants were customarily granted the fourth Sunday of Lent as a day off, so that families could take this Sunday to visit the “mother” church. (Wikipedia has details.) Lenten rules were relaxed, families spent the day together and, as a result, this Sunday was alternatively called Refreshment Sunday.

Did you know? In the Bible readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent, there are references to Jerusalem being the “mother of us all.”

By the early 20th century, the American Mother’s Day advocate Anna Jarvis was gaining international attention. Inspired by Jarvis’s work, British activist Constance Penswick-Smith penned a booklet that attempted to revive Mothering Sunday, but with a twist: This time, she suggested, Mothering Sunday should be focused on honoring Mum instead of on visiting the “mother” church. By 1938, Mothering Sunday was recognized in almost every parish in Britain, as well as by children—young and old—across the nation. (The Children’s Society, a UK organization, offers sermon ideas for Mothering Sunday.) By 1950, the holiday had spread across the UK.

Simnel cake: Though sweet buns were the treat of choice in the 16th century, the Simnel cake has since come to be associated with Easter and Mothering Sunday. A fruit cake with layers of almond paste, the traditional Simnel cake is sometimes decorated with 11 balls of marzipan, representing the 11 disciples (excluding Judas). The BBC has an authentic recipe of this cake, as does

What do the British do for Mum? Cards and flowers aside, countless pubs, restaurants and spas bring out their best services for Mothering Sunday. News reports are offering top-choice lists of places to take Mum, with opportunities from Manchester to Wales. Liverpool Cathedral has also announced a special service and lunch in honor of—who else?—wonderful Mum.