Every year, as we cycle through the year and each Celtic festival comes around, I find myself learning a little bit more about each one’s meaning and about the many simple ways we can work with them to connect more deeply with the seasons. I have two books that I reach for each time and I can’t think of a better way of summing up this festival – Lughnasad (also known as Lammas) the festival of the First Harvest – than sharing some words from each of them.
“Slowly the burgeoning energy of Summer has shifted and at Lughnasad we begin to see signs of the wheel’s turning. The Earth ripens and grows mellow – we can smell the warm and heavy difference in the air. All around us, plants once stiff with juice are softening, drying, going to seed. Everywhere are the signs of early harvest, with roadside stands and farm markets overflowing with produce.”
Celebrating the Great Mother by Cait Johnson and Maura D Shaw
And this passage feels particularly relevant in this Summer-unlike-any-other, with it’s multitude of layers, stretching challenges and emotions:
“Lughnasad, or Lammas, is the holiday that celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. Summer is at it’s height, but already the days are growing shorter and we know that autumn is on it’s way. Some things in the garden are ripe; others are still not ready. The grain is standing in the fields but not yet harvested. Lammas is a time to think about our hopes and fears. We hope that we’ll be able to pick and eat all the things we worked hard to grow – but a lot could still happen. We could have storms or scorching sun or high winds…. To harvest we must cut down the plants we’ve tended so carefully… We feel sad that Summer must end for us to reap the harvest. But we feel happy, too, thinking about all the good things we’ll have to eat. Just as the Summer Solstice taught us that we can feel happy and sad at the same time, Lammas teaches us to feel sad and happy.”
Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk
With many of us having occupied our children during the lockdown months with planting seeds and expanding veg and flower patches, the elements of this lovely festival are evident in the patches of earth we’ve been able to cultivate (even if that patch is in a pot). My children have been so loving the sunflowers blooming, the strawberries producing, the bees all over the borage in the herb bed, our veg patch beginning to yield some things and they’re on daily tomato-ripening watch.
Some lovely things you can do with your children this week to celebrate Lughnasad:
- A lovely harvest of your own – if you’ve grown veg or flowers this year, chances are you’re harvesting a little from it already. This festival is a lovely opportunity to pause and appreciate yours and the Earth’s growing efforts. Taking a basket to gather a few things in that your littles help you make into lunch, dinner or a snack is a lovely, simple celebration. You can talk about the journey from little seed to the food on your plate. A posy of flowers gathered from what you’ve grown or wildflowers found on a walk could dress your table in Summer. Take some pictures of what you’ve grown together – is there anything lovelier than looking back on your small person beside a towering sunflower or with their hands full of something delicious you’ve grown? You could have you own ‘village fete’ and give prizes for biggest, tastiest, prettiest or most funny-shaped things you’ve grown.
- Visit a producer – my two boys love a pick your own farm and are well known amongst friends and family for being excellent fruit pickers. We’ve been known to get calls to come and clear off people’s plum trees before the fruit goes to waste and there’s never a more welcome call as far as they’re concerned. In our new surroundings there are less PYOs but plenty of farms and producers with drive-through or roadside stalls selling their bounties. We visit as often as we can through the Summer to support local growers and keep ourselves in fresh goodness.
- Make a corn dolly – traditionally people would have made a harvest figure out of stalks of wheat to bless the home and remind them of the Earth’s bounty. There are lots of tutorials online for easy corn dollies and you could use other dried stalks from grasses or similar tall plants if you have no wheat around you.
- Bake some bread – the alternative name for this festival, Lammas, comes from Loaf Mass and baking a harvest loaf would have been a way to celebrate the good harvest, which was a matter of life and death for our ancestors. We’ve often made a simple loaf together or I’ve made dough and we’ve shaped it into our own little loaves. One year somebody made a sweet mouse loaf which swelled in the oven and looked so cute that nobody wanted to eat it.
- Herbal ice cubes – suggested in one of the books mentioned above and adapted to our own way, we made some pretty, Summery ice cubes last year. You can keep it simple with a few flowering herbs such as borage, chamomile, lavender, caldendula and rose petals and leafy herbs such as mint, thyme rosemary frozen in water-filled ice cube trays. Or if your children are interested you could make a tea from the herb and freeze into ice cubes with the flower or leaf inside – learning a little of the properties of that herb as you go. We use ours in a summery drink of the elderflower cordial we made around the solstice, water and some local apple juice.
- Go on a seed hunt – how many varieties of seeds can you find in your garden if you have one, or along your walks. If there’s a meadow area nearby it’s amazing to see how many different types of grass there are, shown through the difference in their seeds. My children love to play ‘hen or cockerel’ with them. Asking your partner which it will be before running your thumb and index finger up the stalk to strip the seed – which does it most look like? Another seed activity can be gathering seed from your spent flowers or veg that’s bolted to save for the next growing cycle.
- Read some stories that speak to this time of year – there’s a lovely one in Circle Round called the Queen Bee (adapted from the Grimm’s tale by the same name). The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle is lovely for littles, as is Bee by Britta Teckentrup. As my two grew and became more interested in growing things they loved How does my garden grow? by Gerda Muller. You’re sure to have others on your bookshelves as well.
- Go in search of blackberries – it might be too soon in some areas but here in Herefordshire we’ve been picking blackberries from a few bramble bushes in particularly sunny spots all this week, while we wait for the big ripening to happen on all the others. Nothing says first harvest more to me.
And for you dear Mama
I love honouring the Celtic festivals with my children. They love hearing about them and it’s another lovely way to connect with the natural world around us. As well as this, I always love to have something for myself to do that feels like cup-filling, nourishing, self care alongside honouring the seasons and the turn of the wheel.
This Lughnasad falls at a many-layered time for me. Alongside Summering with my boys and all the lovely outdoor adventures that entails, I’m feeling a lot of feelings in relation to this intense year we’re having, I’m working on preparation for my Mother Wild retreat that I’m hosting in the woods in September and I’m looking ahead to plans for the rest of the year and into next. It’s a lot to hold in one go, I find, and time to unravel my thoughts is really valuable. So I’m keeping it simple. I plan to sit in a favourite spot in our garden where we’ve let the grass and wildflowers grow wild around some baby fruit trees, with a cup of fresh-picked herbal tea (definitely there’ll be some Borage in there for courage) and I’m going to gift myself some time to unwind and appreciate the abundance around me. I might journal it or I may just gaze into the distance and let it all be.
What could you do to nourish yourself or to connect with the abundance of this time of high Summer?