Lunasadh

In the first days of August at the time of the full moon, a festival called Lunasadh or Lammas is still traditionally celebrated in parts of Ireland and Scotland. In the Celtic story of Lugh, Lunasadh marks the end of the summer’s time of growth, and the waning of the summer sun’s strength. The days will soon grow shorter, and it is a time to reap what has been sown and give thanks for the fruits of nature. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 921 AD mentions Lunasadh as ‘the feast of first fruits’. This festival is also called Lammas, as in the Old Lammas Fair at Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. Lammas is thought to have nothing to do with lambs. The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon hlaefmass, ‘Loaf Mass’, the celebration of the first bread baked with the newly harvested grain of the year. Although the First Bread blessing largely died out as a Christian ritual after the Reformation, the custom is now being revived in places. It is a harvest festival but, unlike the more familiar late autumn harvest festival with its celebration of 'all is safely gathered in', Lammastide represents the full ripening of the corn crop, where the summer’s sunshine has been collected and concentrated, together with the goodness from the earth, into the precious grains of corn. Now the corn was ready for harvest, the ‘Hungry Month’ of July was over and the harvest had begun; the cutting of the first ears and the baking of the first bread. In Scotland, the first-harvested grain was celebrated by the making of a ‘bonnach lunastain’ or Lunasadh bannock. As Lughnasadh means the start of the harvest, so Michaelmas on 28th September signifies its coming end. With the mythology of Lugh largely supplanted by that of the Archangel Michael, an ancient and deeply rooted tradition has been continued within a Christian framework. The tradition of making corn dollies stems from Lunasadh. In order to keep the spirit of the corn alive, the last-harvested sheaves of corn would be saved and the stalks of straw with their grains would often be woven into straw dollies and kept to be sown with the new crop in the spring. To the Celts, time was seasonal, and circular rather than linear. This was reflected in their way of commencing each day, and each festival, at dusk rather than dawn. It was also reflected in their year, which began in late October when nature appears to be dying down and the nights become longer than the days as winter approaches. Then as the year progressed, life and light springs up again.

This story was published with kind permission from The Ileach - Community Newspaper of the year.

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