Lughnasadh (or Lughnasa or Lúnasa) is a Celtic holiday that celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. It’s celebrated in Ireland, Scotland (where it’s called Lunasdál), the Isle of Man (as Laa Luanys), and Wales (as Gwl Awst, or the August Feast). It’s halfway between the summer and autumn equinox, and it’s one of the festivals the ancient Celts held that marked the seasons. It’s still celebrated today, as both a cultural and a religious holiday.
This article is only a brief and simplified introduction. Because Lughnasadh is intertwined with religious beliefs and Celtic mythology, there is a lot of background and information about the holiday and other cultural and religious days, beliefs, etc. that would make this article too long.
This day honors the pagan god Lugh. What he is the god of changes depending on who you ask. Some say he was originally a god of oaths and deals, some say he was a skilled craftsman, some say he is a sun god, etc. It is said he held a harvest fair and games on this day to honor his deceased adoptive mother, a goddess named Tailtiu. (Though there are some discrepancies, such as it being the day Lugh got married, this explanation seems to be the most popular one.) This was the first day ancient Celts would harvest their crops, then put them in storage for when the winter months came.
This holiday and others like it are deeply connected to nature and its cycles. They harvested grain crops, such as corn and wheat, which took months to grow and were a key to survival as the winter months loomed. As Lugh was also a god of oaths and deals, deals and trading were common at this time. Deals could be social, political, etc., and this was a good time for farmers to meet with local leaders to come up with trade agreements regarding their crops and livestock. This festival may also be one of inward reflection, as it is also a religious festival.
This festival has celebratory proponents as well as religious traditions. In ancient times, this festival was a time of harvest, but also for feasting, matchmaking (couples would have trial marriages that lasted a year and a day until after the next festival, where they would be officially married or dissolve it), climbing sacred mountains, giving offerings, picking and eating bilberries, and more. People would also perform rituals, spells, etc. as a way to celebrate (here is a book about them). Celebrations have changed over the years—such as no longer having to worry about storing food for winter—but it’s still an important holiday.
Some traditions have remained, and some have changed, especially as the holiday spread to other European countries such as Germany. One popular way to celebrate is to bake bread as a way of welcoming in the harvests. They like to bake bread into interesting shapes, and they try to put in energy for peace and prosperity. Pilgrimages are also a more modern celebration, and people travel to sacred places such as the mountain Croagh Patrick. Rituals are still common, such as ones that celebrate nature, the earth, harvests, gods, and more. There is no specific way to celebrate, and here is an article that explains a few rituals and gives a lot of background on the holiday.
This is quite a fascinating holiday and it’s so exciting to learn about different holidays and beliefs of different cultures and religions. I hope you enjoyed learning about Lughnasadh as much as I did, and if you’re still curious, I highly recommend checking out the sources I’ve linked or even doing your own research.
For more “on this day” content, click here.