Lughnasadh (pronounced “LOO-nuh-suh”) is the first of three harvest festivals in the ancient Celtic tradition. The second one is Mabon, held at the autumnal equinox, and the final one is Samhain, held on either October 31 or November 1. Lughnasadh, which is usually celebrated on August 1, represents a cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. This is the time to celebrate late summer grain; the Christian version of this festival is Lammas, or Loaf Mass Day, when the first bread of the harvest would be brought to church to be blessed.
Lughnasadh and the God Lugh
Lughnasadh honors the god Lugh, a beloved warrior god for the Irish people. Lughnasadh is a celebration of the sun and the harvest of fruits and grains. Lugh was said to have hosted the first Lughnasadh feast in honor of Tailtiu, his foster mother, who died of exhaustion after clearing the fields in ancient Ireland to prepare the land for agriculture. There were feasts, drinks, and sporting games.
In a way, we are celebrating Lughnasadh when we go to the modern late summer county fair, where we play games and ride rollercoasters and eat things like mini donuts and corn on the cob.
Lughnasadh as a Harvest Festival
Lughnasadh is a festival of harvest and agriculture, as well as a moment of gratitude for the land and the earth mother who provides us with the grain that sustains us. It’s also an acknowledgement of the end of high summer, the shift into fall, and the eventual longer days.
There’s an echo of death here, as the first Lughnasadh was something of a celebration of life, an honoring of Tailtiu, who gave her life to feed the people. It’s a seasonal metaphor for the major shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of agriculture and the abundance that comes with farming. While this is a welcome shift, it’s also a loss of the old ways of being. Lughnasadh is a moment of celebration and also an acknowledgment of change and loss.
While the energy of the summer solstice (Litha, in this tradition) is like a ripe fruit, ready to eat, Lughnasadh is the moment just before the fruit turns to rot. It must be enjoyed now before it shifts into its death cycle.
Lughnasadh: A Time of Both Joy and Grief
Lughnasadh gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the turning of the Wheel of the Year. From a spiritual and emotional perspective, it gives us a chance to sit our joys right next to our losses, to remember to appreciate the moment precisely because it won’t last. We have the space during this holiday to pause and consider what’s changed and what we’ve lost over this calendar year, while at the same time appreciating the abundance of what is and the choices we’ve had to make to let go of what’s not serving us and focus instead on what is.
While grief, loss, and chance are subtle themes of Lughnasadh, the much more prevalent mood is one of celebration, enjoyment, fun, and togetherness. This season can be hard work for those that cultivate the land and begin the harvest, so we must not forget why we do this work of survival: to enjoy the fruits of the land and our connection with each other.
How to Celebrate Lughnasadh
There are many ways to celebrate Lughnasadh for yourself, no matter your spiritual tradition. If you can, gather with others and feast. You might enjoy a dinner party and break bread you made from scratch, ideally using grains from local sources.
Go to the county fair or whatever equivalent you have in your community and play some games, eat good food, and enjoy your time with others. Taste the sweet fruits of August, knowing the winter will come—but not yet.
Enjoy a meditation on the themes of harvest and gratitude for Lughnasadh.