Celtic Festival

The Celtic wheel of the year

For information on the Celtic Festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, scroll down the page.

Lammas/ Lughnasadh,
Summer cross quarter festival, Sunday 1st August

This festival at the height of summer celebrates the harvest of the grain, honouring the Corn or Grain Mother in her many guises as life-bringer and preserver. This festival is also known as Lammas, a Saxon word meaning “loaf-mass”. Throughout Europe, there are many different rituals and customs to honour the cutting of the first and last sheaf of corn. Often, the last sheaf was cut by the youngest girl and made into a Corn Maiden, a baby or an old woman (corn dolly). This was sometimes plaited and decorated, and then carried merrily back to the village where it was usually hung over the fireplace.

Lughnasadh eve was a night to celebrate the corn mother and the promise of regeneration associated with the gathering in of the harvest. The traditional date is August 2nd, but Lammas fairs and feasts lasted for a month, 15 days before August 1 and 15 days after. Tribes would gather together to celebrate, trade horses and carry out other business transactions, hand-fast couples and choose new tribal leaders after the year’s productivity had been reviewed. In the North, the roots of this festival are still apparent in the traditional “Wakes” holiday.

Lugh was a Celtic sun god who traditionally died at this time of year to give his life and energy back to the land and the grain. This is the key to the Lughnasadh festival – the death and transformation of the sun, when we must sacrifice our outer active energy (the male principle) to return to the inner, receptive and regenerative energy (the female principle).

Lughnasadh energy

Lughnasadh marks a change in energy, from the seemingly endless summer to the first signs of change and death. It’s time to gather in the fruits of the harvest, and save seeds for planting again in the spring. Make the most of the last of the sunshine now, going out while the weather is still warm and temperate. You can also gather in and assess the harvest of your own life during this active period, the fruits of your labours. Be thankful for what you have achieved, realise how much of what you have reaped is what you have sown, and start to look inward for a deeper understanding of your outward actions.

How to celebrate

Ask a local farmer for a sheaf of oats, wheat, barley or rye – or armfuls of long grass will do. Weave a Corn Mother, smaller corn dollies or any woven shapes you feel are appropriate, incorporating flowers and herbs, and brightly coloured ribbons of red, orange and gold. Use these to decorate your garden or an outdoor party setting, along with food, bread, biscuits and fruit, and anything else that represents a bountiful harvest.

With thanks to Glennie Kindred for her excellent source book Sacred Celebrations.

Celtic wheel of the year

In this modern age of city living and science-ruled society, many of us have lost touch with the ebb and flow of the seasons and our place in the natural world. The Celtic festivals remind us of our closeness to nature and help us celebrate our connection with all living things, inspired by the turning of the seasons reflected on the changing face of the land. Some of these Celtic festivals are still honoured today – although often without recognising their true origins.

There are eight Celtic festivals marking our cycle through the wheel of the year (the most current one is described at the top of this page):

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

Winter solstice – Winter quarter point, 20 to 23 December

Imbolc – Winter cross quarter festival, 1st/2nd February

Spring equinox – Spring quarter point, 21 – 22 March

Beltane – Spring cross quarter festival, end of April/beginning of May

Summer solstice – Summer quarter point, 20 to 23 June

Lammas (Lughnasadh) – Summer cross quarter festival, end July/beginning August

Autumn equinox – Autumn quarter point, 20 – 23 September

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night, when the Celts acknowledged the great turning wheel of the year and of time itself (yule actually means wheel in Norwegian). The winter solstice was a time to pause and look back at the dark period since Samhain when the earth and its people had turned inward to gather energy and nurture dreams, and to look forward to the approaching return of the sun and a new season of activity.

The Celts did not view time in a linear way. The solstice was another station on the wheel of life – a part of the endless cycle of birth, death and then re-birth of something new. They decorated their homes with evergreens which represented this cycle of everlasting life – Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe which still have their place in Christmas celebrations today. Yule logs, candles, decorated trees and presents all have their roots in this ancient honouring of the sun’s return, bringing with it a new season of light, warmth and activity. The church deliberately chose this time of year to celebrate the arrival of its own Son!

In many cultures there are myths of sun gods and, further back, goddesses, who are born at this time, sacrificed or taken into the underworld with the end of the summer, and reborn to begin the cycle again at the winter solstice. This is the sun’s birthday!