BY MELISSA RENAY
Celebrating the harvest is a tradition held throughout many cultures. Usually during the time period between August 1st and September 1st annually, celebrants gather up their wheat to mark the first harvest festival for the year. In Europe, there are many variants to the annual harvest festival and they date back for thousands of years. The Anglo-Saxon harvest festival is called Lammas Day or in Anglo-Saxon language: hlaf-mass, “loaf mass.”
In the past it was customary to bring a loaf of bread as a token of your harvesting of the new crop which began to be harvested on Lammastide. Lammastide customarily falls at the halfway point between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. Many people in English-speaking countries would bring this loaf of bread to church to be blessed. However, in pre-Christian times, this bread was thought to have a magical effect. In a book of old Anglo-Saxon charms there was the direction that the lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain.
In some old church documents, the ritual is referred to as the “feast of first fruits.” The blessing of first fruits was done annually in both western and eastern church traditions.
The ancient Lammastide has its roots in our agrarian past. It was a way for farmers to ease their way into autumn and to set their minds upon the harvest, and first fruits of their diligent labor of the soil.
Although this festival, Lammastide, is not celebrated as widely as it used to be, it’s still a time of celebration in places like Ireland, where they still have the Ould Lammas Fair. In fact, it’s been running for nearly 400 years, dating back to the 17th century.
It’s not uncommon to hear songs about John Barleycorn during this festivity. John Barleycorn represents the grain, be it corn or wheat or barley, and, of course, to consume the grain, it must be cut down. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go so well for John Barleycorn in traditional songs since he dies; however, he is resurrected as the loaf of bread in the circular nature of life.
Whisky is often included in these festive gatherings, since, as you know, whisky includes grain. So enjoy some whisky and a fresh loaf of bread as a first fruit thanksgiving. It’s the least we can do to keep our cultural traditions alive.