August has come – the first step of Winter
Lammastide is here. Lammas marks the fall cross-quarter day, August 1, and falls at the midpoint between Midsummer and the Autumnal Equinox. The word, “Lammas,” is an Anglo-Saxon contraction of “loaf-mass,” and thus notes the importance of grain and bread at this time of year. The Celtic name for this celebration is Lughnasadh, but I’m sticking with Lammas, as it’s easier to spell.
Lammas is probably the least known of the four cross-quarter days. Celebrations for the others still survive, even as vestiges of their former selves: Candlemas is Feburary 1, marked as Ground Hog’s Day. Beltane is May Day, May 1. Samhain is November 1, marked as Halloween/Day of the Dead/All Saint’s Day. But Lammas? I didn’t have a clue about it until I started gardening and paying closer attention to the seasons as they came and went.
The quarter days enjoy a lot of air time. Midwinter, Midsummer, the fall and spring equinoxes — lots of talk about the beginning of spring, summer, winter, and fall. The cross-quarter days? Not so much. That’s a shame, really. I tend to think of the cross-quarter days as the real beginning of each season and the solstices and equinoxes as the midpoints.
Cross-quarter days are liminal times — at each, we perch on the threshold of a new season, with all the regrets of the previous season and hopes for the coming one. The visible transitions at cross-quarter days are subtle; the change of the season doesn’t hit a person in the face as much as the change at the quarter days.
Right now, for instance, it’s hard for me to tell that autumn’s coming, but it is. The days are becoming shorter. When I sit down to knit after dinner, it’s truly twilight, and I have to turn on a lamp. Mornings, when I wake up, only the barest hint of a grey dawn lies in the east. On the maple trees in the neighborhood, a few leaves, anxious to get on with the season, have turned red.
But everywhere else? It looks like high summer. The lavender is still blooming. The basil is growing so fast that I can practically see it happen. The pool is a popular place to be. By the equinox, the signs of autumn will be unmistakable. For right now, though, to notice the signs of the changing season demands that I pay attention.
Every year, I always wish that I could do more to celebrate Lammas. Next year, I tell myself, I’ll have a Lammas feast of tomatoes, basil, and corn. Next year, I’ll be sure to mark the occasion of this first fall harvest festival. But every year, I fail. I think that failure is due to Lammas itself. Rather than quietly persuade me to contemplate the coming season, it tells me, “Hurry, hurry!”
“Hurry, hurry! Dry those herbs and make that pesto!” Did I cut enough thyme to last the winter? How can I possibly make and freeze enough pesto for my pesto-loving family? What jams are left to be made?
“Hurry, hurry! Finish those summer knitting projects! Do you think you have all summer?” The menfolk must be sensing the growing darkness, and are thinking about fall camping trips already. They’re starting to ask about warm sweaters for fall. I need to get the summer knitting off the needles and pull out the worsted weight sweater yarn.
“Hurry, hurry! School will be starting soon!” The college student will be moving to his first apartment over the next week or two, and the younger son will be starting high school and moving into the college kid’s former room. The resulting kerfuffle is fun, and a little crazy. It’s forced me to make some long-needed changes to their bedrooms, which is a good thing.
With all the hurrying and scurrying, I just don’t have a lot of time to put together a Lammas celebration. I do have time for a few observations, though:
Here at Lammas, I’m beginning to see the first fruits of the seeds I planted at Candlemas. Setting aside time to write has paid off. I’m able to post to my blog on a regular basis. I’ve also been able to dry herbs, and will begin the pesto-making operation in the next few days. I’ve begun the transition from one son’s bedroom to a guestroom, and will re-vamp the younger son’s new room in the coming weeks.
Knitting is also going pretty well. I’m finishing up summer projects and will start on the fall knitting in a few days. I’ll have Eric’s sweater back on the needles very shortly. Maybe, just maybe, it will be done by Mabon, the autumnal equinox.
Regrets and farewells? I have those, too. I regret that the colorwork mittens I designed didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I’m learning from that experience, and will work on a redesign. I say farewell to yet another spring and summer that was very stressful at work, and which stress bled over into the other aspects of my life, casting more of a pall than I would have liked. I’m hopeful, though, that autumn will be less stressful, and will free up more mental energy for my creative works.