Happy Lughnasadh!

May your harvest be plentiful this year!

Lughnasadh is a traditional Irish festival for the beginning of the harvest season. (My best approximation of the pronunciation is “Loo-nas-ah”.) Despite the fact that I haven’t heard a single person mention the festival, I find it a fascinating point of access to ancient Irish culture.

Two more caveats: First, neo-pagans have adopted Lughnasadh to widely varying degrees of accuracy, and I won’t say anything more about that. Second, I’m terribly underqualified to write on this subject, and I haven’t done research beyond what I can reach from my couch (via the internet). But publicly flaunting one’s ignorance — that’s what blogs are for!

Community festivals, family reunions, and other celebrations are traditionally linked to Lughnasadh. Some of today’s Irish festivals associate themselves with Lughnasadh. It’s been celebrated by Irish communities for all of known history, especially when you count the Christian feast of Lammas as a derivative tradition.

Some experts consider Lughnasadh to be the traditional occasion for “handfasting” — a practice of trial marriages that last a year and a day. Primarily, though, Lughnasadh is a petition to the divine for a successful harvest, and it marks the first day of autumn (and thus the harvest).

The North American holiday associated with the harvest is Thanksgiving. But Lughnasadh is a prayer for a successful harvest to come, rather than a thanks-giving for the harvest past. In legend, Lughnasadh was instituted by the god Lugh. Lugh was a legendary High King of ancient Ireland, an epic hero, and, at last, a divine being. One author commented that Lugh was not the type of guy that would wait for sacrifices to come after the people saw how good the harvest would be.

Until today, I thought that John Barleycorn was just the name of a bar near Wrigley Field. Apparently, John Barleycorn is the personification of the barley harvest (and the fermented drinks that followed) — and he’s associated with Lughnasadh.

The August bank holiday in today’s Ireland is sometimes called the Lughnasadh holiday; this year, it’s next Monday, August 6th. On the other hand, I asked a practical Irish businessman about the June and August bank holidays — he said, “The English and French had two holidays in the summer, so we wanted them too. I don’t think they even bothered making up reasons.”

Some links, if you want to spend some time clicking about:

3 Comments to “Happy Lughnasadh!”

  1. Dave said...
    2 August 2007

    Does anyone this argument would work with the US Congress? We’ve got the fourth of July…. and that’s it. Memorial day is more spring than Summer, and Labor day is certainly fall. I propose that we petition the US Congress for a holiday in August, since the French, English, and Irish all have two summer holidays. If we follow the Irish’s lead, we don’t even need a reason!! (Note: This proposal does not change my position that MLK day should be celebrated on the Monday following the Superbowl. This is NOT NEGOTIABLE, and MUST happen.)

  2. Keely said...
    2 August 2007

    I’m with Dave!! We have far too many months of the year without bank holidays. Wait a minute, we have bank holidays. The problem is that Abbott does not recognize all of the bank holidays as holidays.

  3. Will said...
    3 August 2007

    Since I was a child, I’ve been disappointed that there’s no holiday in August, my birth month. Just the start of school. That may be a celebratory occasion for parents, but I was scarred as a child. So I think Dave’s case should include a claim of discrimination against August-born children. What about the children?