The Forgotten Holiday We Need to Make Famous Again

by | Summer

“Whilst August yet wears her golden crown,
Ripening fields lush-bright with promise;
Summer waxes long, then wanes, quietly passing
Her fading green glory on to riotous Autumn.”

~ Michelle L. Thieme, August’s Crown
 

“Whilst August yet wears her golden crown,
Ripening fields lush-bright with promise;
Summer waxes long, then wanes, quietly passing
Her fading green glory on to riotous Autumn.”

~ Michelle L. Thieme, August’s Crown
 

 
If we look back at our history of cultural inheritance, it’s pretty easy to recognize that all of the major festivals and holidays from Western Europe do still have some kind of modern-day counterpart. (Even if all that’s left is a caricature of what once was, kind of like Groundhog Day.)

I should say, all the festivals except one: First Harvest, also known as Lughnasadh or Lammas.
 
Traditionally celebrated on or around August 1st, this holiday marked the first harvest of the season; specifically, the harvest of grain crops.

 
And if we consider for a moment that before the 20th century there was no year-round source of food––no grocery store to pop in at, no global food chain––we can begin to understand why July was often called “the Hungry Month,” and get a sense of just how deeply joyful and important this first harvest would have been.
 
But Lammas was about more than just the literal first harvest of the year.

 
It was the traditional beginning of the entire harvest season. The promise of what was in the belly of the earth at Groundhog Day––also known as Imbolc––had now come to fruition. From seed to ripened grain.
 
And so this festival marks the point at which a distinct mental shift is also made: from the growth and ripening of spring and summer, to the reaping and rest of autumn and winter.

 
Harvest is a kind of dying. A sacrifice. Like Persephone giving way to Demeter. Like the image of the Burning Man. Or the symbol of the braided corn dollies. Or the songs of John Barleycorn. Even the sun has noticeably begun to retreat from the sky, despite the fact that the languorous, end-of-summer heat still enfolds us.

For life to return in spring, the death of harvest and winter must first envelop the earth. Life and death are two sides of the same coin, and at Lammas we acknowledge that the dying half of the year has begun. After this point, we’ll start to notice plants fading, the first leaves of trees beginning to turn, and other small changes that tell us that summer is winding down.
 
But our modern world has no counterpart for this once-important festival. Why is that?

Well, since festivals are only celebrated so long as they feed a symbolic need within us, the likely explanation is simply that we are no longer an agrarian society. We don’t harvest our own wheat anymore, don’t thresh it or grind it. Heck, only the artisans among us still bake our own bread.
 
Nobody has the time. And that is both symptom and root of the problem.

 
You see, we’ve ended up at the opposite extreme: when once life was completely tied to agrarian cycles, we are now so divided from the production of our food sources, that we take for granted their availability 365 days a year.
 
But by letting this festival fade into history, we’ve also lost the important symbolic meaning that pausing at this moment in the year nourished in our hearts, our spirits, and our subconscious minds.

 
Because whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a difference in our energy after this point in the year. The Energy Axis of the year shifts. We begin to retreat from the world, to draw inward. We begin to harvest within ourselves that which is ready to be reaped.
 
And yet our modern culture has forgotten the importance of this.

 
We don’t give ourselves that time to pause anymore. We reserve the practice of gratitude until the end of the harvest season, at Thanksgiving. But gratitude for the abundance of our blessings shouldn’t be reserved for just one day a year.
 
It all stems from the fact that, as a society, we fear and avoid the idea of aging and death.

 
In nature there is no such thing as constant, never-ending growth and expansion. That is the biggest myth the 20th century left us with. Always onward and upwards. Bigger and better.
 
We’re so afraid to think about the ending of things that we’ve completely erased this moment of pause from our holiday year.

 
But if we never allow things to come to their natural ending, how can anything new ever grow? Without the harvest and fallow times, where is the white space in which new ideas can take seed?
 
Here’s exercise for you.

Ask yourself:

  • What in your own life has grown from a seed, ripened and is ready now to be harvested?
  • Which of the goals you set have come to fruition? Why have some not worked out?
  • And what are you still holding onto that needs to be released? Old grievances and regrets? Old hopes and fears?

Now is the time to acknowledge all your hard work and celebrate both the bounty of nature and the bounty of growth and change you’ve created in your own life.

It’s also time to release on anything that didn’t come to fruition. All those things that you’re still holding onto.
 
You must let go of all the expectations you had for the Growth and Ripening phases of the year, so that when the inward, yin energy of the Harvest phase takes over, you can walk forward without the weight of regret hanging over your shoulders.

 
Late Summer is a liminal time. An in-between, when life and death are held together in the symbolism of nature that we see outside our windows.

And by celebrating the festival of Lammas we allow ourselves a chance to reflect on this, to celebrate, to be thankful, to look back and look ahead, and finally to return home to ourselves, that we might pave the way for new growth in the Spring.

Sign Up to Get your weekly
Seasonal Archetype Report

(Plus other news and updates!)

Sign Up to Get your weekly
Seasonal Archetype Report

(Plus other news and updates!)