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.


Lammas, Lughnassadh: Christians, Wiccans, Pagans mark grain harvest festival

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: Freshly baked breads, golden grains, dancing and the imminent days of autumn are all central to today’s celebration—by Christians, Lammas, and by Wiccans and Pagans (in the Northern Hemisphere), Lughnassadh. Though the name varies by tradition, this first harvest festival draws its roots from the same agricultural festival, steeped deep in history.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. While Lammas is a Christian holiday, it is observed primarily by the English and those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition; the Catholic Church previously commemorated both Lammas and the feast of St. Peter in Chains on August 1, but the latter feast has since been removed from the Roman Calendar. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) For Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, Lughnassadh is a time for reflection, renewed hope and dancing. Centuries ago, the blessing of the first fruits—that is, the first crops of the harvest—was performed in both the Eastern and Western Christian Churches.


Learn more about the link between grains, breads and faith in Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, a book filled with fascinating stories and traditional recipes, from ReadTheSpirit author Lynne Golodner.


The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing: the loaf would, of course, be made from the baker’s freshly harvested grain. The faithful would ask God’s blessings upon their harvest, and in some regions, Anglo-Saxon charms were placed upon the Lammas loaves. (Find scrumptious bread recipes at Allrecipes; get instructions for daily fresh bread from Mother Earth News.) Following Lammas Mass, Christians would partake in a Lammas Day feast, complete with the loaf that had been blessed in church.


Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnassadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnassadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. (Wikipedia has details.) In many areas, corn dollies were made from the harvested corn, sometimes hung in the home for a measure of luck.

Today, modern Wiccans and Pagans enjoy the season’s freshest produce, preferably in a feast: blackberries, grains, grapes and apples. Aside from ceremonies with dancing and bonfires, anyone can participate in Lughnassadh by giving thanks for the food on the table. (Learn more from Try a walk in the woods or fields, visit an orchard, or collect seeds for next year’s planting season.