Tomorrow (August 1st) is the Celtic harvest festival called Lughnasa (or Lughnasadh).
There were four major feasts or festivals in the Celtic Year: Samhain (Nov 1st), Imbolc (Feb 1st), Beltain (May 1st) and Lughnasa (Aug 1st).
Lughnasa was the feast of the Celtic God of Light, known as Lugh in Ireland and Lleu in Wales. In Ireland, the festival was celebrated for a whole month (usually mid July until mid August).
Lleu appears in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh legends, as Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the son of the goddess Arianrhod. He marries Blodeuwedd, a women made from flowers, but she betrays him for her lover Gronw Pebr. They attempt to kill Lleu, but he shapeshifts into an eagle, and the magician Gwydion turns him back into a man.
“Nasa” or “nasadh” means commemoration, and the festival commemorates or mourns the passing of the god-king, and the rebirth of the god-king or sun.
About the festivities
At Lughnasa, tribes would gather together, marriages would be arranged and games and festivities would be held (Lugh is associated with chess, ball games and horse riding). The games would include wrestling, horse riding, dancing and other games and sports which became associated with the festival over the years.
Traditionally, in Ireland, the festivities were held at sites with distinctive natural features, either in high places such as mountains, or beside water features such as wells, springs and lakes, or in locations which had both height and water such as mountain lakes.
In Ireland the festivities have continued in various forms for hundreds of years, and Maire MacNeill’s book on Lughnasa collects folk memories of the Lughnasa feasts from across Ireland.
Lughnasa was a harvest festival. In Ireland the festival celebrated gathering in the most important food crop in Ireland: potatoes (although this was originally corn, as potatoes were only introduced to Ireland in the seventeenth century).
In the last few weeks before the new harvest, most households had very little food remaining, and therefore the harvest festival was a joyous celebration of food. Some people believed it was important to eat well on the first day of the feast to ensure being well fed for the rest of the year (just as people today sometimes believe that what you do on New Year’s Eve affects the rest of the year ahead).
Lughnasa was added to the Christian calendar by the Anglo Saxons, and named Lammas (which means loaf-mass).
Nowadays, many neo-pagans and Wiccans celebrate the Celtic festivals, as part of the natural cycle of the year.
Finally, I should mention that according to Maire MacNeill’s book, rain was often associated with the Lughnasa or Lammas feast day of the 1st of August!
Sarah Costley and Charles Kightly: A Celtic Book of Days. Thames & Hudson: 1998. Kept in the Welsh Library (Shankland Reading Room in Main Arts Library, College Road) at Bangor University, at shelfmark X/AA 4 COS.
John King: The Celtic Druids’ Year: Seasonal Cycles of the Ancient Celts. Blandford: 1994. Kept in the Welsh Library (Shankland Reading Room in Main Arts Library, College Road) at Bangor University, at shelfmark X/AA 4 KIN.
Maire MacNeill: The Festival of Lughnasa. Oxford: 1962. Kept in the Welsh Library (Shankland Reading Room in Main Arts Library, College Road) at Bangor University, at shelfmark X/DA 97 MAC.
Caitlin Matthews: The Elements of the Celtic Tradition. Element Books: 1989. Kept in the Welsh Library (Shankland Reading Room in Main Arts Library, College Road) at Bangor University, at shelfmark X/AA 4a MAT.