The Fire Festival of Lughnasa

Lughansa is one of the four fire festivals of the Celtic year.

Lughnasa marks the beginning of autumn (fall). It is the beginning of the harvest season and celebrates the decline of summer into winter. The old Celtic pagan festival lasted a month, with August 1 at its midpoint, but is currently most often celebrated on the Sunday closest to that date.

Celtic festivals and rituals typically center around the assurance of a bountiful harvest and the celebration of the harvest cycle.

There is often much confusion surrounding Lammas/Lughnasa because of the variety of names and the differing dates on which it is celebrated.

When the Gregorian system was adopted in Ireland in 1782, 11 days had to be dropped to make the calendar astronomically correct. This led to the festival being celebrated on either the 1st or the 12th of August, called respectively New Style and Old Style Lughnasa.

To further complicate matters, many Lammas/Lughnasa festivities became appropriated to Christian saints’ days or the nearest Sunday.

Lughnasadh festival traditions

Folklore survivals of Lughnasa are celebrated under a wide variety of names, such as Bilberry Sunday, Garland Sunday and Domhnach Crom Dubh (‘Crom Dubh Sunday’), depending on the locality, at various dates between mid-July and mid-August.

The name Bilberry Sunday comes from a tradition of gathering bilberries (blueberries) at this time. If the bilberries were bountiful, the crops would be also. This is also the feast of the first grain harvest. Though the exact date of the festival varies, in the old days it was held anywhere from August 1 to August 14. Often, it began at sundown of the previous evening, or July 31, since the Celts measure their days from sundown to sundown.

Garland Sunday is so called because garlands of flowers and greenery are usually placed around most of the Holy Wells. These wells are found throughout Ireland and are most often dedicated to the patron saint of the parish. This day also marked the end of the ‘hungry season’ as people were now confident there’d be plenty of new potatoes, freshly baked bread, and baskets brimming with berries.

To be continued ..