Monday, August 1, was Lammas, otherwise called Lughnasadh. Falling midway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, it’s the time of year when much of the food planted earlier in the season is ready for picking (and for preserving via drying, salting, fermentation, canning).
In these modern times of fast global transport, refrigeration and supermarkets, the notion of a harvest festival sounds quaint, but until recently, harvest time was a really big deal. A bountiful harvest meant everyone would be fed. A meager harvest meant tough times ahead.
Any number of factors could negatively impact the harvest, from drought to pestilence, so the gods were petitioned throughout the year for help with the crop. And when the harvest was brought in, they were thanked and given offerings.
NOTE: No one in my family is crazy about the names ‘Lammas’ and ‘Lughnasadh’. . . just can’t relate to some of those more obscure Celtic or Gaelic words, you know? Especially ones I don’t know how to pronounce like ‘Lughnasadh.’ So we just renamed August 1st “Harvest Day” which feels more natural rolling off our tongues.
Growing up in New York City, the only harvest festival I really heard about was Kwanzaa, or First Fruits, parts of which are based on African harvest festivals. I always liked the idea of Kwanzaa --artificial as it sometimes seemed -- but the harvest aspect of it had no meaning for me because 1) I was a city kid who got her food from the supermarket and 2) where I lived there was no kind of harvest happening smack in the middle of winter.
Later on of course I learned that harvest festivals are held in most cultures of the world and have been for thousands of years, and that harvest time varies according to geographic region and climate. In parts of Ghana and Nigeria, for instance, there are yam festivals held at the end of the rainy season in August.
When I first became pagan, I decided that I would only celebrate the sabbats that made sense to me. This never included Lammas because I didn’t see the point, probably in part because what little I’d read about it billed it as a ‘grain celebration’ (which I hardly ever eat) or a time to “sow the seeds of projects planted earlier in the year,” which was a bit too abstract.
But re-thinking it, I decided this sabbat is quite relevant to our lives, since my family gardens, we have belonged to CSA’s (local farms) on and off over the years and we always shop at the farmer’s market. We do these things because the produce is better, we like to support the local economy, and we derive some small bit of independence from corporate agribusiness. Anything to stick it to the man. And we are very thankful for all this good food, realizing there are many who simply don't have.
So this was our first year formally celebrating this sabbat. In addition to renaming the holiday more to our liking, we:
-made an altar on the living room mantle of garlic, peppers and some of the other non-perishable produce from our garden;
-had a mini-feast: I baked a loaf of artisan bread, J did the rest. He made roasted squash, peppers, garlic and mushrooms and some corn pudding. Plus we had a bottle of something called “Harvest Moon” from a local winery.
Then we gave thanks for the food, for the turning of the wheel, and dug into our meal.
It was immensely enjoyable, kind of like Thanksgiving but without the commercialization, hype and buildup. Will definitely be making this a regular thing.