While the majority of us here in the United States are suffering through one of the year’s worst heat waves, it’s hard to believe there are parts of the world planning a wrap up to summer and a kick off to fall.
Lughnasa or Lughnasadh, the ancient Celtic harvest festival gets underway August 1st. There are some conflicting accounts on the exact date the celebration gets underway. Some claim that the start can be either the first Sunday in August or the Sunday closest to August 1st, which would be July 31st this year. Centuries ago, the harvesting festivities got underway in mid July and went through mid-August with the Lughnasa festival falling somewhere in the middle, making it … around August 1st.
The Lughnasa festival marks the beginning of autumn and the harvest season. People gathered to celebrate and ensure a bountiful yield. It was a time of gathering and celebration. It was also a time when young couples could choose to give marriage a try, at least for a year and a day. These newlyweds would return the following year and either choose to continue on as man and wife or go their separate ways. Sounds like a good deal for everyone. Everyone that is, but the modern day divorce attorneys. Sadly this custom faded with the passing of the years, so for the foreseeable future it’s ‘til death do us part.
The harvest festival of Lughnasa does go by other names. Bilberry Sunday, Garland Sunday and Crom Duhn Sunday are just a few. Bilberries (like our wild blueberries here in the states) are gathered at this time. Some believed if the bilberries were plentiful it meant that the rest of the harvest would be as well. Garland Sunday comes from the tradition of laying garland wreaths on Holy Wells to pay tribute to local patron saints. This new tradition shows a shift from the pagan Celtic beliefs to more Christian beliefs prevalent in modern Ireland.
I’ve had the opportunity in the past of being in Ireland during Lughnasa season and it really is great craic (Gaelic for fun). The Irish love a good party and any excuse to throw one. This farewell to summer celebration is just one of many such good times that the Emerald Isle executes beautifully. So if you want to pay tribute to your Irish roots, and as my dearly departed Grandma Cavanaugh would say, “If you go back far enough, everyone’s Irish” here are some pointers on how to show your friends homemade Lughnasa.
A bonfire, campfire or pit fire are a must. Some believe that Lughnasa is one of the 4 Celtic fire festivals. Whether that belief is true or not, it’s a great way to gather people around to share great stories and enjoy a drink or two. Plus there is just something wonderful (maybe it’s the smell or the crackle pop of the logs) about a nice summer’s night fire.
Good story telling. If you’ve got the fire going and the meal is done why not lay some fun Celtic folklore on your friends. Thanks to the internet, good Irish tales of heroes, fairies, banshees and the like are just a Google search away. And if folklore isn’t your thing, you can share great stories of your own. Or pick a guest who you know is GREAT as it (we all have one) and ask them ahead of time if they wouldn’t mind doing the honors. Part of putting on an Irish fete is sharing a tall tale or two.
Finally, food and drink. Can’t have a party without them. I think we are all so accustomed to the heavier St. Patrick’s Day fare that we don’t necessarily think of Irish food as a go-to for a summer barbeque. But hopefully some of the menu items I’ve put together for our Lughnasa feast will demonstrate some of Ireland’s lighter offerings.
As for drink, simple: Guinness. Whether it’s cold winter’s day or a hot summer night, nothing beats a Guinness. Some even think it has medicinal powers. Now I can’t speak to that, but I will say while this stout appears heavy, it is a surprisingly light and refreshing drink. I highly recommend giving it a try. But if you have hard core lager fans in your midst you can always offer a Harp. Or for the amber lover, the absolutely DE-licious Smithwick’s, soooo yummy.
Special Note: I want to thank our cousin Sarah Amdor who has volunteered her amazing photographic talents to us here at Historic Hostess. Sarah is responsible for the beautiful photos taken of the Bastille and Lughnasa celebrations. Without her talent, time and patience this blog would simply be a collection of words. Thank you for your colorful contribution.