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!


15 thoughts on “Lammastide, or Your August Book of Days

  1. Hi John! I always appreciate you drawing attention to these special days. Maybe they’re a way of helping to mark space out within the rush. Hope you and Seth are able to claim time for a bit of relaxation soon. I’ll think of you when I tear into some bread later today for Lammas.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Thank you, Caleb. We will think of you later when we do the same! Lucky for us, my sister made a batch of bread over the weekend and gave us some, so we’ve got good stuff to work with.

  2. John Cutrone says:

    Post Script: I do love this postage stamp. I did a little research and discovered the illustrator is Fritz Wegner. ~ John

  3. mary beth shipley says:

    Happy Lammastide! This is a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing! This is my favorite time of year, I love the transition! I aldo have an Italian grandmother; she was born August 14, 1893 in Potenza, italy. We are very blessed to have an Italian heritage that loves tradition! I certainly hope as we get into the harvest season, you can start to rest and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Oh how wonderful, Mary Beth. Mine was from Lucera. Welcome to your favorite time of year! And I do intend to slow down a bit: Seth and I are planning a 2-week vacation here at home this month for that very reason. Our own at home Ferragosto.

      • mary beth shipley says:

        That sounds wonderful and I hope you thoroughly enjoy it and give us a report! Here’s to beautiful August sunsets and nature at its best for you to enjoy! Hope you have clear night skies for enjoying Scorpius and the Teapot!

  4. mary beth shipley says:

    Last year I stumbled upon this lovely poem that I thought I would share in case folks have not seen it:

    August rushes by like desert rainfall,
    A flood of frenzied upheaval,
    But still catching me unprepared.
    Like a match flame
    Bursting on the scene,
    Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
    Like a dream
    Of moon and dark barely recalled,
    A moment,
    Shadows caught in a blink.
    Like a quick kiss;
    One wishes for more
    But it suddenly turns to leave,
    Dragging summer away.
    – Elizabeth Maua Taylor “August”

  5. mary beth shipley says:

    Oh I just download the whole album that Cari recommended. Fabulous! Thank you!

  6. Cari Ferraro says:

    Hi John, It’s good to see your Lammastide check in. How did we get so busy? I have theories but I will spare you and just recommend a deep breath and maybe a good movie. Dancing at Lughnasa? I’m tickled that have discovered one of my favorite songs. Of course you knew the song, but that’s how I learned it. When I told a friend in England she said Traffic was from “Brum” – her home town of Birmingham, which was a hotbed of music in the sixties and seventies, even the home of the mellotron, a unique instrument used by Traffic and the Moody Blues and other bands. I love Steve Winwood’s acoustic version but the one that imprinted on my young mind was Traffic’s which has lovely harmonies and a super cool flute accompaniment. So glad to share this goodness with you and your readers. Don’t forget that deep breath, friend!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Thank you, Cari. I love a good music recommendation. And now thanks to you and Mary Beth Shipley, I’m going to explore the rest of that album (next chance I get). I know Steve Winwood’s music but I did not know about Traffic nor his part in the band.

      I’ve got my sister’s freshly baked bread at the ready for this evening and a glass of whisky is in the plans. A breath or two, for sure. And maybe we’ll check out your film recommendation, as well. Happy Lammastide to you!

  7. Marietta says:

    We tend to rush, rush,rush. May the season of Lammas prepare you and Seth for the transition to harvest. May the first grains of the harvest be abundant. I’m glad to hear that during Ferrogosto, you both have plans to relax, read and do nothing!
    Also, I loved the poem “August” that Mary Beth posted. It describes the month perfectly. Yet, this year it has an totally new meaning to me❣️( and I’m liking it).🙂

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