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August 1, 2015

For many of us in the modern-day United States, the beginning of August means that summer has a long way to go — there are many long, hot days before the first cool breath of autumn.

In the ancient British Isles, though, August 1st marked not the middle of summer, but its end. It was a time to start harvesting summer’s bounty — especially the grains that were used to make bread. And it was celebrated with feasts, games, and other festivities.

The celebration was one of four commemorated near the “cross-quarter” days — days that are roughly half way between a solstice and an equinox. The most famous of all these dates are associated with Groundhog Day and Halloween. The August cross-quarter celebration came about six weeks after the summer solstice, and seven weeks before the fall equinox.

The end-of-summer celebration isn’t especially well known today, but it has deep roots. It appears to have started in Ireland. It honored the Celtic god Lugh. He was known as “the Shining One” — perhaps indicating that he was thought of as a Sun god. He was certainly a god of the fields. The first cuttings of the new harvest were offered to him in thanks for summer’s bounty.

Later, the celebration spread to England, where it came to be known as Lammas — a shortened version of “loaf mass.” The first bread baked with the summer grains was presented to the Church — an offering with ancient roots, tied to the rise and fall of the seasons.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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