I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the long and lazy summer days that were part of my childhood… mainly because I’ve not had a single one of them yet this summer. Work has been extra busy since May and there’s so far been not one visit to the beach, not one day trip, not one rainy hour leisurely reading a book. It’s all been a big rush, all summer long. Even Lake Worth’s Fourth of July fireworks display was like this. Seth and I were running late, so we took a hurried walk down to the lagoon to watch, and we sat on the grass and the show began and it was spectacular but it was over in three or four minutes. A malfunction on the barge put a quick end to things. We didn’t know about the glitch until later, of course, but in my mind, in the Work! Work! Work! state it’s been in, I just figured there was someone new in charge of municipal fireworks, someone who was going to give us what we wanted –– the grand finale –– and be done with it. “There are things to do. Get back to work!” It’s left me wondering, sometimes, whom I’ve become this summer. I’m not fond of myself lately.
The company that Seth works for was acquired not long ago by a larger German company, and now he works with people who are off from work on Easter Monday and Epiphany and for Corpus Christi and Ascension Day and Whitmonday and other holidays through the year: holidays that are outside the scope of our American labor calendar. This month, the company will close again for Assumption Day on the 15th of August. Assumption Day is the day my grandmother was born, back in 1898, and so her parents, my great-grandparents, named her Assunta in honor of the day. It is the time of the centuries-old Italian rest and relaxation tradition known as Ferragosto, when most Italians (at least those not working in the service industries catering to tourists) pack up and head to the sea or to the mountains for a week or more to escape the heat. My grandparents, when they came to America, brought many of their Old World traditions with them, but for some reason, the Great American Work Ethic won out over Ferragosto. The closest we got in my family was to enjoy a traditional meal of cucuzzi cooked with eggs and parsley each Assumption Day –– something we still do, to this day, with a crusty loaf and a bottle of wine. I guess we take what we can get.
Ah, but here now we reach the point in summer where July melts into August. With the transition comes another of those holidays that we just don’t have here in the States. To be fair, Lammastide is not very well known anywhere these days. Lammas, on this First of August, is a remnant of an agrarian past, a celebration of the first grain harvest of summer. It would serve a valuable purpose, were we to adopt it, for it marks the point in the Wheel of the Year where summer begins its shift toward fall: We are now halfway between Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox. The green of summer is deepening, maturing, and more golden hues are apparent. The days are already considerably shorter than they were just a few short weeks ago; in fact, by Lea Leendertz’ Almanac, which is decidedly British, daylight in Lancashire will decrease, over the course of this month, by just over two hours. There is an undeniable shift in the air, and the value of Lammastide is in the fact that it helps us acknowledge this shift, and honor it. And rather than enter into August as I used to as a kid, with the sudden dread that school would soon begin, Lammas gives us pause to celebrate the transition.
You may hear the name Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-na-sa) at Lammastide –– it is the Celtic name for the holiday. Where Lammas and Lughnasadh are celebrated, it is done so with fruits of the grain harvest. The name Lammas comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon Hlafmass, or “Loaf-mass,” and at Lammastide, the first loaf of bread would be baked from the newly harvested grain and brought to the church to be blessed. All labor would cease and there would be community gatherings, perhaps the precursors of our contemporary county fairs that begin to pop up this time of year. And since grain yields not just bread but also whisky and ale, these things, too, play a part in Lammastide celebrations. You may hear the name John Barleycorn at Lammastide, too, especially in old drinking and harvest songs: He is the personification of the grain. Songs praising John Barleycorn are sometimes somber and sometimes jolly, but one thing is common to them all: the acknowledgement that to rise again as bread or as whisky or ale, John Barleycorn must die. It is the old, old story, told over and over again as our Wheel of the Year turns through the seasons.
If you are celebrating Lammas with us (and I think you should), the needs for a proper celebration are simple: a good loaf of bread and a festive beverage should be your table’s focal point. That’s it. And finally, here is your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for August. Our cover star this month is a reproduction of a lovely Lammastide postage stamp that was issued by the British Post in 1981, part of a series of stamps celebrating folk traditions. My kind of stamp!
With thanks to Cari Ferraro for the introduction to a version of “John Barleycorn” I had never heard before. For August, I’ll do my best to write more often, I promise. For now, though, Seth and I raise our glasses to you: Cheers to you and to all in your household this Lammastide!
SUMMER HIGH FIVE SALE
At the online shop, you’ll find my mom Millie as the cover star for the current HIGH FIVE SALE: Use discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your purchase of $35 or more. That’s on everything in the shop: our own letterpress printed books and broadsides, genuine Shaker herbs and teas, all of our handmade artisan goods for all the seasons. Plus free domestic shipping when you reach $60. CLICK HERE to shop, and thank you for your support!