Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, "loaf-mass"), also known as Loaf Mass Day, is a Christian holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere on 1 August. The name originates from the word "loaf" in reference to bread and "Mass" in reference to the primary Christian liturgy celebrating Holy Communion. It is a festival in the liturgical calendar to mark the blessing of the First Fruits of harvest, with a loaf of bread being brought to the church for this purpose.
On Loaf Mass Day, it is customary to bring to a Christian church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide, which falls at the halfway point between the summer solstice and autumn September equinox.[page needed] Christians also have church processions to bakeries, where those working therein are blessed by Christian clergy.[page needed]
Lammas has coincided with the feast of St. Peter in Chains, commemorating St. Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison, but in the liturgical reform of 1969 the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori was transferred to this day, the day of St. Alphonsus' death.
While Loaf Mass Day is traditionally a Christian holy day, Lughnasadh is celebrated by Neopagans around the same time.
Ann Lewin explains a key practice of the Christian feast of Lammas (Loaf Mass Day) and its importance in the Christian Calendar in relation to other feasts of the Church Year:
August begins with Lammas Day, Loaf Mass Day, the day in the Book of Common Prayer calendar when a loaf baked with flour from newly harvested corn would be brought into church and blessed. It's one of the oldest points of contact between the agricultural world and the Church. The others were Plough Sunday in early January, the Sunday after Epiphany and the day before work would begin again in the fields after Christmas festivities, when ploughs would be brought to church to be blessed; and Rogation days in May, the days before Ascension Day, when God's blessing would be sought on the growing crops.
In the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, during the celebration of Holy Communion, "The Lammas loaf, or part of it, may be used as the bread of the Eucharist, or the Lammas loaf and the eucharistic bread may be kept separate."
The loaf is blessed and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards in protective rituals: a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the Lammas bread be broken into four parts, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain.
In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to frequently, it is called "the feast of first fruits". The blessing of first fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western churches on the 1st or the 6th of August (the latter being the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ).
In medieval times the feast was sometimes known in England and Scotland as the "Gule of August", but the meaning of "gule" is unclear. Ronald Hutton suggests following the 18th-century Welsh clerical antiquary John Pettingall that it is merely an anglicisation of Gŵyl Awst, Welsh for "feast of August". The OED and most etymological dictionaries give it a more circuitous origin similar to gullet; from Old French goulet, a diminutive of goule, "throat, neck," from Latin gula "throat".
Several antiquaries beginning with John Brady offered a back-construction to its being originally known as Lamb-mass, under the undocumented supposition that tenants of the Cathedral of York, dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula, of which this is the feast, would have been required to bring a live lamb to the church, or, with John Skinner, "because Lambs then grew out of season." This is a folk etymology, of which OED notes that it was "subsequently felt as if from LAMB + MASS".
For many villeins, the wheat must have run low in the days before Lammas, and the new harvest began a season of plenty, of hard work and company in the fields, reaping in teams. Thus there was a spirit of celebratory play.
In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer. At the end of hay-making a sheep would be loosed in the meadow among the mowers, for him to keep who could catch it.
In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1.3.19) it is observed of Juliet, "Come Lammas Eve at night shall she [Juliet] be fourteen." Since Juliet was born on Lammas Eve, she came before the harvest festival, which is significant since her life ended before she could reap what she had sown[original research?], as blessed by the Friar Francisco, by consummating her marriage:
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay,'
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
— Juliet Capulet, Romeo and Juliet II.2:95-99
Another well-known cultural reference is the opening of The Battle of Otterburn: "It fell about the Lammas tide when the muir-men win their hay."
William Hone speaks in The Every-Day Book (1838) of a later festive Lammas Day sport common among Scottish farmers near Edinburgh. He says that they "build towers ... leaving a hole for a flag-pole in the centre so that they may raise their colours." When the flags over the many peat-constructed towers were raised, farmers would go to others' towers and attempt to "level them to the ground." A successful attempt would bring great praise. However, people were allowed to defend their towers, and so everyone was provided with a "tooting-horn" to alert nearby country folk of the impending attack and the battle would turn into a "brawl". According to Hone, more than four people had died at this festival and many more were injured. At the day's end, races were held, with prizes given to the townspeople.
1 August (Northern Hemisphere)
1 February (Southern Hemisphere)