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Related to Lammas: Lughnasadh


1. RC Church Aug. 1, held as a feast, commemorating St. Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison
2. the same day formerly observed in England as a harvest festival. In Scotland Lammas is a quarter day
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: August 1
Where Celebrated: British Isles
Symbols and Customs: Loaf of Bread
Related Holidays: Candlemas, Harvest Home Festival, Martinmas, Pentecost, Shavuot, Thanksgiving


Originally called the Gule of August, Lammas was a celebration of the grain harvest and one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain. When Christianity was introduced, the day continued to be celebrated, and a LOAF OF BREAD made from the newly harvested grain was the usual offering at church. For this reason it was called Hlaf-mass (loaf mass), subsequently shortened to Lammas. Another theory about the name's origin is that it came from LUGHNASA, the ancient autumn festival in honor of Lugh, the Celtic sun god. Yet another explanation, although based on a custom apparently confined to the cathedral at York, is that it was called Lammas because it was traditional to bring a lamb to church as an offering on this day.

Lammas marked the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Some cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

Although it is no longer observed, Lammas is important as an ancestor of other special days that are still celebrated. It was the forerunner of England's and Canada's modern Harvest Festival (see HARVEST HOME FESTIVAL) and of America's THANKSGIVING. Nowadays, harvest festivals tend to be observed later in the year, usually between September and November, when all of the autumn crops are in instead of just the early ones, like grain.

Up until the mid-eighteenth century, young herdsmen would band together in different companies and build towers out of stones or sod. On Lammas morning, the bands would assemble, waving flags and blowing horns, and set out to tear down one another's sod towers. Each carried a club or a cudgel, and victory was seldom gained without bloodshed. The day's activities usually ended with footraces.

In Scotland, Lammas was also one of the four cross-quarter days (along with CANDLEMAS, Whitsunday [see PENTECOST], and MARTINMAS) when tenants paid their rents-originally in the form of newly harvested grain-to their landlords. The phrase "at the Latter Lammas" meant "never" or "not in this lifetime." Tenants would often say, "I will pay him at the Latter Lammas," by which they meant, "I'll pay him when I get good and ready." In the Highlands, people sprinkled their cows and the floors of their houses with menstrual blood, which was believed to be especially potent against evil on May 1 and August 1.


Loaf of Bread

As a symbol of the harvest and therefore of God's bounty, the loaf of bread has always played a part in the celebration of Lammas. It was made from grain that had just been harvested and brought to the church as an offering. Scholars believe that Lammas was closely related to the Jewish SHAVUOT or Feast of Weeks, which also came at the end of the grain harvest and entailed offering two loaves of bread at the Temple in Jerusalem.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Brewster, H. Pomeroy. Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church. 1904. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.


Eastborne Lamas Festival
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


August 1
Possibly one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain—the Lugnasadh—Lammas was known as the Gule of August in the Middle Ages. It celebrated the harvest, and was the forerunner of the Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States and Canada. In medieval England, loaves made from the first ripe grain were blessed in the church on this day—the word lammas being a short form of "loaf mass." Lammas Day is similar in original intent to the Jewish Feast of Weeks, also called Shavuot or Pentecost, which came at the end of the Passover grain harvest. A 15th-century suggestion was that the name derived from "lamb" and "mass," and was the time when a feudal tribute of lambs was paid.
In the Scottish Highlands, people used to sprinkle their cows and the floors of their houses with menstrual blood, which they believed was especially potent against evil on this day. It was also one of the Quarter Days in Scotland, when tenants brought in the first new grain to their landlords.
Along with Candlemas, Walpurgis Night, and Halloween, Lammas is an important day in Neopagan calendars.
A phrase used from the 16th to the 19th century, "at Latter Lammas Day," meant "never."
BkDays-1864, vol. II, p. 154
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 199
DictDays-1988, pp. 51, 66
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 601, 961
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 163
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 484
OxYear-1999, p. 315
RelHolCal-2004, p. 273
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 349
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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The match between Staines Lammas FC and Chessington & Hook FC in Stanwell, Middx, was abandoned after 27 minutes.