Happy Lughnasadh everyone. Celebrated on the 1st of August, Lughanasadh (pronounced Loo-nah-sah) is the third of the four ancient Celtic seasonal festivals.
Today marks the waning of summer and the beginning of autumn in Ireland. Seasons change earlier on the Emerald Isle than in North America. And today on Lughanasadh the ancient Celts celebrated the first harvest festival of the year.
Lúnasa is the modern Irish spelling for both the month of August and the festival. With my little smattering of Irish, I mistakenly believed the name was associated with the moon. As a child I used ‘luan’ as the Irish word for moon.
Since I don’t trust my rusty brain, I decided I better double check the meaning, only to discover the more common term for moon is ‘gealach’. Well, that got me thinking I better investigate my assumptions for Lughanasadh, and as expected I was a little off base.
The harvest moon is associated with the festivities, but the feast bears the name of the sun god Lugh. Ancient Celtic Ireland was an agricultural community. On the first day of Lughnasadh Celtic farmers cut the first grains of the season, and families baked loaves of bread, marking the beginning of the end of summer.
Lugh, the ancient Celtic sun god, is credited with hosting the first harvest festival. His poor foster mother, Tailtiu, died from sheer exhaustion after clearing the brush and forestry from the central plains of Ireland for planting crops (another poor, over-worked Irish woman!!)
Lugh commemorated his foster mother’s sacrifice and dedication, by organizing a great feast and sporting competition. Let’s face it, he really should have just helped the poor woman clear the brush.
Over the years this harvest festival evolved into a great tribal assembly. Násad is the ancient Irish word for assembly. It became a time for making legal agreements, resolving disputes, and challenging competitors to great sporting feats. Hand-fastings, or ancient Celtic weddings were also held on this date.
Since much of the festivities occurred at the top of mountains, climbing Ireland’s hills became associated with Lughnasadh. This tradition was Christianized over time, the most famous trek being the Reek Sunday pilrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick. Thousands of pilgrims climbed this famous Mayo mountain last Sunday.
And so today, when celebrations of Lughnasadh no longer
dominate Irish culture, perhaps we should just pause for a
moment, taking time to be grateful for the food on our table
and for all of our blessings.
Summer days are drawing to an end and evenings are beginning to grow noticeably shorter. Lughanasadh is a time to begin reaping what has been sown, and to remember the ever turning cycle of Mother Nature.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom