Also known as
Crom Dubh Sunday
annually on August 1st
Lughnasadh is a Gaelic festival of pagan origins that begins the harvest season. Throughout history, it has mostly been celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is named after the Celtic god of light, Lugh, as well as after "násad," which means assembly. It is said that Lugh began the holiday as a funeral feast and athletic competition, to commemorate his mother or foster mother, Tailtiu. In mythology, Tailtiu cleared the lands of Ireland so that crops could be planted there. According to legend, the day is seen as a struggle between two gods, Crom Dubh and Lugh. Crom Dubh grew the crops and guards them as his treasure, while Lugh works to seize them for mankind. Lugh wins the harvest and then must fight to defeat a figure that represents blight. Lughnasadh is held on August 1, but in recent times has sometimes been celebrated on the Sunday closest to that date. It corresponds with Lammas, which is more widely celebrated in England. Sometimes it is an alternative name for that holiday.
Most Lughnasadh celebrations of the distant past took place on top of hills and mountains. They included religious ceremonies, athletic contests, matchmaking, and feasting—of crops from the new harvest and bilberries. They also included trading, visits to holy wells, the sacrifice of a bull, the offering of first fruits, and a ritualist dance-play where Lugh seizes the harvest for humanity. Bull sacrifices lasted into the eighteenth century, and many of the other customs lasted into the twentieth century, while often shedding their pagan roots.
In the present day, the climbing of hills and mountains still happens in some locations, being influenced by the day, but sometimes now taking place as Christian pilgrimages. One popular example is Reek Sunday, a pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick mountain on the last Sunday of July. Some fairs are thought to have survived from Lughnasadh, such as Puck Fair. Other festivals are held in Ireland based on the day. Celtic neopagans celebrate a religious holiday based on Lughnasadh, and they hold harvest festivals as well, with feasts, songs, and games. Celtic Reconstructionists—those who try to reconstruct the pre-Christian Celtic religions—celebrate the day by giving thanks to gods for the beginning of the harvest season, by giving offerings and prayers. They often honor Lugh, as well as his mother, Tailtiu.
How to Observe Lughnasadh
Here are a few ideas on how to celebrate the day:
- Watch Dancing at Lughnasa.
- Read Festival of Lughnasa.
- Climb Croagh Patrick as part of Reek Sunday.
- Attend Puck Fair.
- Attend another yearly Lughnasadh festival. One is held at Craggaunowen in County Clare, and one is held at Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim
- Eat some bilberries.
- Harvest some crops.
- Climb a mountain.