Lammas Day

sickle and wheat harvest

First fruits
of the grain,
on ‘loaf mass’ day-
the autumn harvest has
begun

August first is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”). It is sometimes known as Loaf Mass Day and is now a rather obscure Christian holiday still celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

The name originates from the word “loaf” in reference to bread and “mass” in reference to the Christian liturgy celebrating Holy Communion with bread. In the early Church, it became the time for the blessing of the First Fruits of harvest. People would bring a loaf of bread made with the first harvested grains to the church for this purpose. The loaf of bread was to be made with grain harvested at Lammastide, which falls at the halfway point between the summer solstice and autumn September equinox.

I don’t recall ever celebrating this in any religious manner and my first memory of the day came when I taught Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is one of the few Shakespearean characters whose age and date of birth we know exactly. We are told that the coming Lammas Eve (July 31) would be her 14th birthday.

Juliet by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898
Young Juliet as illustrated by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898

I also learned that Wiccans use the names “Lughnasadh” or “Lammas” for the first of their autumn harvest festivals. It is one of the eight yearly “Sabbats” of their Wheel of the Year, following Midsummer and preceding Mabon. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane.

Handfasting is something I have seen in ceremonies that were not at all Wiccan. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ritual in which the hands are tied together to symbolize the binding of two lives. It has become more mainstream and is used symbolically in both religious and secular wedding vows and readings.

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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