Celebrating Lammas – why the Celtic Harvest Festival is still so relevant today!

The fields are golden, the land is bountiful, the apples are ripening in the trees. It is time to begin the harvest, to reap the seeds sown in spring. And if you like me living in the countryside the harvest is a 24 /7 job and they go at it night and day!

In our modern world, it’s often easy to forget the trials and tribulations our ancestors or even our modern day farmers have to endure. For us, if we need bread we simply drive over to the local grocery store and buy a few bags of prepackaged bread. If we run out, it’s no big deal, we just go and get more.

But back in history merely hundreds of years ago, the harvesting and processing of grain was crucial. If crops were left in the fields too long, or the bread not baked in time, families could starve. Taking care of one’s crops meant the difference between life and death.

Not surprisingly our ancestors both celebrated the first harvest. This happened at a time called Lammas (see Tolkien knew his folk lore) around the 2nd August. Lammas was the last of the Celtic fire festivals during the Celtic Wheel of the Year.

Now if we want to understand why it is a time of year that is relevant for us today we first need to dive a little into history and look through the eyes of our Celtic ancestors.

Lammas was celebrated with festivals across Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. On the opening day of the festival the community gathered in a high place. There were pageants and dramatic performances. They would feast on the first of the harvest’s corn reaped from the field made hastily into small cakes, as well as bilberries, and in some places a sacrificial bull. There would be great assemblies of the community and trading fairs. And in Ireland they held the Tailteann games which lasted for 2 weeks. There the best warriors and athletes would gather for the games, which included competitions like long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, archery, wrestling, boxing, swimming, and chariot and horse racing. A bit like the modern Olympic games.

Historically Lammas had a strong connection to sacrifice. In essence they viewed the corn as a “sacrificial king” cut down to provide bread and beer. Sacrifices at Lammas were made to thank the Gods for the first harvest and to guarantee an abundant harvest. In many cultures there was a theme of a dying and resurrecting King within their mythology. The Corn God embodied this concept. In the past in some parts of the world, Lammas was a time of physical sacrifice. In some cultures this was purely symbolic, in others the sacrifice was an actual king or mock ‘king’ offered as a human sacrifice. Our ancestors didn’t mess about!

So let’s fast forward to now…

Why is all of this relevant for us? We don’t have the same beliefs in gods and goddesses (well some of us don’t). Why should Lammas be something we celebrate today? 

Well the way I see it there are a few reasons. 

By celebrating Lammas as the first harvest, we reconnect with the process of sustaining life and at the same time give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives, and to be grateful for the food on our tables.  We have become so disconnected from this journey of basic survival, being grateful reminds us how lucky we are to be alive and that not only creates a feeling of humility but also gives a boost of inspiration to our lives.

By looking back at our year’s journey so far at Lammas we get to appreciate how far we have come. I also recommend people use Lammas as a time to look at their first harvest from the first six months of the year. And look at the sacrifices you have made as well. It’s a great way to acknowledge your strengths, look at what you have learnt about you, life and the universe and to celebrate happy moments and the things you are proud of.

I think one of the most important lessons of Lammas is that we can’t do life alone. (And if you think about the COVID isolation, how many of us came to realise we need connection with other people in our lives.) Lammas back in the day was a time where the community came together to bring the harvest in. And even though we might not realise it in the farming community world wide they are still doing it today. I think Lammas is a great time to acknowledge your community and show them some gratitude for the support and love they bring to your life.

Lammas is bittersweet, although we can glory in the fruits of our labour and enjoy the warmth of the sun, Lammas is the first point is often the last part of the year where we can feel the summer, it marks the first hint of the darker times and hibernation to come. Lammas is the balancing point a moment of pause and celebration before we begin to see life ebbing away in the Fall.

What better way to mark that time as a celebration of our abundance, personal journey and our community. These are all the things that make life magical. Celebrating them reminds us how lucky we are to be right here. Right now.

And by celebrating Lammas we get a burst of appreciation for life, new energy and inspiration to sustain us in the coming winter. That was important for our ancestors but it is especially important for us today. Gods knows we could all do with celebrating the good in life in these COVID times.

So go make a celebration of your harvest, your loved ones and your life so far this year. And trust me you will find your suddenly feel a whole lot better about your life!

Happy Lammas

Emma-Jane <3

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