Yes, Lammas or Lammas-tide, or harvest as many churches know is almost upon us. I love this time of the year. Hard work for the farmers and rural farmhands, but their tireless labour is appreciated by us all.
Usually celebrated during the very first few days of August, you might want to consider celebrating it on the first day of August, or the following weekend, but I’d also suggest you might like to celebrate it at the time of the upcoming full moon (on the evening of 7 August).
It is, nevertheless, a time to be thankful for the earth’s bounty, and grateful to the Great Provider Of All for the last year.
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand…
(Hymn by Matthias Claudius, Translated by Jane Montgomery Campbell, and one of my favourite, seasonal, hymns at primary school.)
It is called the first harvest, because there is a second harvest at the time of the Autumn Equinox. Others will also know this time as Lughnasadh [(the ‘commemoration of Lugh’), but I like to call it by its old Welsh name Gŵyl Awst.
Lammas, for the inquisitive amongst you, by the way, comes from the Anglo-Saxon festival of hlaefmass – loaf, and so it’s good to celebrate the time with a loaf of bread – home-baked or perhaps, something special bought from a local shop. Maybe eat this special bread after your main meal one evening, with lashings of butter on it, and eat slowly, savouring eat bite as an act of deep meditation, deep reverence and with deep thanks-giving. Rituals don’t have to be lavish and complicated. Simple ones, with intentionality goes a long way. Why not invite family and friends along?
So, my grandmother, a great one for making home-made food would, especially at this time, make bara brith – Welsh for ‘speckled bread’. It’s similar to the Irish loaf, barmbrack.
Oh, this was my favourite type of bread as a child. A cross between bread and cake! The smell of baking bread over the hearth in her north Wales county cottage was heavenly, so inviting, and so impedingly-scrumptious. I can still remember the smell of that baked bread wafting up my nostrils, and my stomach rumbling in anticipation.
As a child, I knew I was in for a treat. There was, and is, nothing quite like freshly-baked bread, still piping-hot, and covered in lashings and lashings of real butter.
In Ireland, some of the mountain pilgrimages have survived. By far the most popular is the Reek Sunday pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick, which attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims each year. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland established the custom of blessing fields at Lughnasadh.This time then, is a time of giving thanks by all to mother nature for all her fruits, gratitude to the the Lord of the Harvest, and a celebration using what has been sown.
And so, this Lammastide, as it has been since I was a child, I’ll be baking several bara brith, and sharing one – yes, the breaking of bread with family and friends – in a simple, ‘after meal’ remembrance ‘feast’, remembering all the good things that have happened this year, and giving thanks, in silence and humility, to the Source of All for the harvest, for life itself.
There’ll be more about the harvest and harvest celebration on Monday, but meanwhile don’t forget the harvest hymn, that you may want to sing, recite as poem or liturgy – see here for the Hymn For Gŵyl Awst.