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Lammas Tide Traditions - 1st August

Lammas Traditions on the 1st August Lammas 1st August customs

The Lammas festival on the 1st of August marks the beginning of the harvest.  What's interesting about Lammas tide and the 7 other special Celtic days, is the way they give the year structure, and also how they help to shape the pattern of the year.

The key to understanding these traditions is realising Lammas, means 'Loaf Mass'.

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The Place of Lammas Day in the CalendarCross-quarter Days

The Lamas festival on the 1st of August is significant because it falls nearly midway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.  The other cross-quarter days correspond to the festivals of Candlemas (Imbolc), Beltane (May Day), and Halloween.

Our ancestor weren't as precise as modern astronomers in calculating these cross-quarter dates.  Furthermore, the exact date of Lammas was often fine-tuned to harvesting conditions prevalent at a particular latitude.

Actual Cross-quarter Dates

Lammas Celtic Tradition

Lammas, or Lughnasadh, was one of the four main festivals of the medieval Celtic calendar.  Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane and Samhain being the other three.  Whereas Candlemas is derived from 'Candle mass', the meaning of Lammas is not obvious until you see the two words: loaf mass.  Given that this festival marks the start of the wheat harvest, then the beauty and logic of the Saxon word Lammas (Hlaf maesse or Leff messe) falls into place.Lammas Customs

At the heart of the Lammas celebration was a religious service using bread made from the harvest's first flour.  What obscures many of these ancient carnivals is the way the earliest Christian evangelists incorporated pagan festivals into Christian celebrations; 'All Saints' an Halloween is another good example of Christianisation of ancient festivals.

In Celtic mythology the Lammas ritual was based on a funeral feast where the Sun God Lugh (hence Lughnasadh), commemorated his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after preparing tirelessly for the harvest.  Thus the festival revolves around bread made from the first wheat grains of this year's harvest.  Incidentally, the fruits of August would have been conceived by the gods at Beltane in May.

If you study other ancient European religions, especially those of the Celts, then you will find parallel names, traditions and folk tales around 1st of August, for example, Lughnasadh (Irish), L´┐Żnasdal (Scottish) and Calan Awst (Welsh).  There also is a modern take on the festival of Lammas with the play, 'Dancing at Lughnasa'.

Other Traditions Peripheral to Lammas

  • Handfasting, or trial marriages were particularly common at Lammas.  Once the harvest was over, then young farmers could think of taking a bride.  If the partnership did not work out they split up, else the lovers got married.  This practice was also known as a Tailltean marriage, which lasted for a year and a day until the next Lammas.
  • Farmers presented their workers with white gloves.  Perhaps this had the practical use of keeping the flour clean as they ground the wheat?
    ...(vr3)
  • We don't think of tax collecting as a tradition, but when you think about collecting taxes has been with us since time immemorial.  In Scotland the association of Lammas with collecting dues lingered into the 18th century.
  • Although Lammas is associated with the wheat harvest, it was also the more general sense of, 'Feast of first fruits'.  Indeed, in Ireland potatoes are harvested at this time, and the first Sunday after Lughnasa was known as 'Cally' Sunday.
  • August is a great time for country fairs, for example, 'The Puck Fair', in Killorglin, County Kerry, Ireland.  King Puck himself is a goat!
  • In medieval times Lammas was known as the "Gule of August", however the meaning of "gule" has been lost in the sands of time.
  • The 6th of August is referred to Old Lammas or Lammas O.S. ("Old Style").  It was significant in the Zodiac, and symbolises the Lion the other three tetramorph figures are the Bull, the Eagle, and the Spirit.
  • Morris Dancers never miss a chance break out their melodeon and bash sticks their sticks, Lammas tide is no exception.
  • See more about Lammas traditions.
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The Corn Dolly Tradition at LammasCorn Dolly Lammas

It has to be said that in modern times the 'Corn Dolly' is mainly associated with the END of the harvest, rather than the beginning.  However, our ancestors felt less restricted by such conventions and they probably made Harvest Queens, Corn Dollies, or Kern Babies throughout the harvest season.

How to Make a Corn Dolly

I still feel guilty picking 20 wheat stems out of the 20 zillion stalks in the field.  Even though he is not there, I can sense the farmer's hackles rising, 'Damn Townies - they'll leave the gate open'.  Of course I don't even open the gate preferring to climb over the nearby style.

  1. Once I bring the wheat stalks home, I strip off any leaves, just leaving the beautiful heads and the long stalks.
  2. Next I soak the straw in water for at least 20 minutes.  Before I start work, I stand the straws in an empty flower vase to dry.
  3. Now I am ready for the real work.  I tie five straws together close up by the ears.
  4. I take one of the straws and fold it across over two corners.  Then I take the next straw and repeat the weaving, until I have folded all five.
  5. With skill and a little luck an attractive spiral pattern grows as round succeeds round.
  6. You could practice with three-straw version, see picture above right.
  7. Once you get the idea, be creative and develop your own variations.

Here is where you can buy a ready-made corn dolly 

 

Corn Rigs By Robert Burns

Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!

 

Footnote:
Please send us your Lammas tide traditions.

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