Category Archives: Lammas

Two Moons, & Lammas

August this year brings two full moons: one tonight, this First of August, which is called the Sturgeon Moon, and the second, a Blue Moon, at the end of the month on the 30th. Both are super moons––full moons that coincide with perigee, which is when the Moon is in closest proximity to the Earth in its elliptical orbit. Both full moons of August will appear larger than usual, because the Moon is indeed closer to us than it usually is. All of this Moon Magic inspired me to give you a moon-focused Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month of August. Cover star: “Summer Night Moon” by Eero Järnefelt. Click here for your free calendar: it is, as usual, a printable PDF, and a fine companion to this Book of Days.

This Sturgeon Moon happens to illuminate an ancient agrarian celebration called Lammas, which falls each First of August. It is one of the old cross quarter days that fall between the solstices and equinoxes, and with Lammas we come to the midpoint between the June solstice and the September equinox. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is high summer, but with Lammas comes the acknowledgment of a perspective shift and the understanding that summer’s growth is mostly done and the focus of the things of this world begins to shift now toward ripening, and harvest and gathering.

Indeed, Lammas is the celebration of the first grain harvest. Where Lammas is well celebrated and where it was more widely acknowledged in our agrarian past, this was a time to bake loaves of bread from the new grain. One loaf would be brought to church to be blessed, and some loaves would be shaped into ornamental loaves called corn dollies, “corn” being a general word describing grain (and not necessarily the cornmeal Americans might think of upon hearing the word). Translating these traditions to the contemporary world, it is a very good day, I think, to bake a crusty loaf, or to gather one from your local baker, and to savor each delectable crumb. You might take a wee dram, as well, of whisky: one of the other gifts of grain. The bread is acknowledged in the very name of Lammas, which descends from the Old English hlafmaesse, or “loaf mass.” John Barleycorn is a name you may hear this time of summer: he is the grain, personified. As the old song goes, John Barleycorn must die: Summer is waning, autumn is coming, and with Lammas, as summer’s hues begin to shift from green to golden, we begin to turn our thoughts toward gathering in. John Barleycorn brings a bit of melancholy but a bit of warmth as well––warmth in his crusty bread, warmth in his spirits, warmth in the ones we gather with to celebrate. Happy Lammastide.


At our online shop, enjoy $5 off your order of $35 or more when you use discount code HIGH5 at checkout. Take it to $75 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. Use the deal on anything in the shop. Click here to shop! Years ago, when I was a printing intern at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, I wrote a short summery tale called Sturgeon Moon. It was August, and the well was running dry. Before I left the Shakers to go back to grad school, I printed the story from handset type in Brother Arnold’s printshop and made it into a miniature book that is illustrated with a pop-up sheep flying over a barn. You can even use the HIGH5 discount code for $5 off the book!

Top Image: “Summer Night Moon” by Eero Järenefelt. Oil on canvas, 1889. Kansallisgalleria (Finnish National Gallery). [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom image: My mom, Millie, in a fishing boat on a lake in Brooklyn, circa 1950.


Lammastide, or Your August Book of Days

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!


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!


My Native Nut Brown Ale

July is ending, August beginning. And with the setting sun this last night of July, the wheel of the year shifts another cog and we take a subtle, decisive step, by traditional reckoning of time, anyway, toward autumn. Subtle, because the shift is most certainly a gradual one. Summer’s heat will persist for many more weeks, especially here in Lake Worth. But the change is undeniable: days have been steadily growing shorter since the June solstice, and here, at this late summer juncture, as July shifts into August, we find ourselves nearing the halfway point between that solstice of Midsummer and the upcoming autumnal equinox in September.

This cross-quarter day on the First of August is known as Lammas (or Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa) in the Celtic tradition). It is perhaps the least celebrated of the old cross-quarter celebrations, and that is too bad. It is the first of the harvest festivals, and on this day it is traditional to enjoy the things of that harvest: to bake bread and to partake of the more spirited things that emerge from the grain that gives us bread: a pint of ale, a dram or two of whisky. The name John Barleycorn is one you may hear these Lammastide days. It comes from many an old song praising the personification of ale and whisky. Some are sad and some are jolly, but all understand that John Barleycorn must be cut down in order to be born again in the form of bread and alcohol. (Well, to be honest, the folks singing these songs weren’t much concerned about the bread. They are old drinking songs, after all.) John Barleycorn is that sacrificial first harvest.

Our friend William Shakespeare understood this well, perhaps because Lammas was a widely celebrated holiday in his time, and in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet, we learn, was born at Lammastide, on the 31st of July. “On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen,” says her nursemaid in the first act of the play. The action all takes place in these last few days of July, and poor Juliet never makes it to that birthday; she, too, is like a sacrificial first harvest.

Lammastide marks for us the subtle transition of summer to autumn, and this is the value of Lammas. A holiday certainly of our agrarian past, but so useful for us today. A gentle coaxing, an acknowledgment of our days growing shorter and darker, and a hint of bounties to come. If you can bake a loaf of bread in the next day or two, wonderful: do so, and take delight in that. A crusty loaf from your local baker would do just as well. And if you take a drink, then please raise your glasses to each other and to me, if you will, and to old John Barleycorn.

Give me my native nut brown ale,
all other drinks I scorn,
For English cheer is English beer,
our own John Barleycorn!

Summer is waning, autumn approaching, and we begin to turn our thoughts toward gathering in. John Barleycorn brings a bit of melancholy but a bit of warmth as well––warmth in his crusty bread, warmth in his spirits, warmth in the ones we gather with to celebrate. Happy Lammastide. I’ll write again once the Convivio Book of Days calendar for August is ready for you; it may be Sunday, but it most likely will be Monday or Tuesday.

Our Summer High Five Sale continues through this Lammastide and through late summer! Use the discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your order of $35 or more. Take it to $50 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. That’s on everything in the shop. And what’s new in the shop? Well, Millie’s Tea Towels are a hit! Mom has been embroidering up a storm and she’s made lots of great new hand embroidered tea towel collections for us: tea towels for beach homes, tea towels for campers, tea towels for wine lovers, and even a set of seven towels, one for each day of the week, all about PIE! Visit the new Linens & Textiles page of our catalog to see all her handiwork. Click here to shop!


Photo: Mark Fuller (center) and George Wickens (right) enjoy a pint at the Tiger Inn, Sussex, with a Canadian soldier on leave in the village. 1943 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Were there some drinking songs sung that night, perhaps to John Barleycorn? I don’t know. But I hope so.