This Celtic harvest festival Lughnasadh on August 1st takes its name from the Irish god Lugh, one of the chief gods of the Tuatha De Danann, giving us Lughnasadh in Ireland, Lugh dedicated this festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. Artists and entertainers displayed their talents, traders came from far and wide to sell food, farm animals, fine crafts and clothing, and there was much storytelling, music, and high-spirited revelry.
Lughnasadh is the beginning of the harvest cycle and rests on the early grain harvest as well as those fruits and vegetables that are ready to be picked. Canning of fruits and vegetables goes into full swing, jams and jellies made and cabinets are stocked with herbs before the onset of autumn.
As long as hand reaping lasted so the ceremonies of the “Last Sheaf” endured. In ancient times in Britain it varied from county to county; some preferred to throw their sickles at it until there was nothing left, others thought it held an evil spirit and trampled it into the ground. Many treated it with honor for they believed the corn spirit had retreated into it as a refuge when the rest of the crop was cut. On some farms the reapers took turns to throw their sickles at the last stand of corn, thus sharing the responsibility. In this the corn spirit was thought to sleep throughout the winter. In the spring it was taken to the fields when seed was being sown, so that the spirit could transfer to the sown seed and awaken it. This ritual re-enactment of the slaying and restoration of Lugh/John Barleycorn was associated with beer and cider drinking to follow.
The last sheaf was then plaited (braided) into a woman’s form, which represented the Harvest Spirit. These were known by various names, the Corn-Dolly, Nell Doll, and in Whalton in Northumberland, a member of the same family made the Kern-Baby each year, for the church Harvest Festival. The Corn Dolly was set in a place of honor at the harvest supper, it was preserved over winter and ploughed-in, in the following Spring; in other traditions, the corn dolly was fed and watered throughout the winter and then burned in the fire at Beltane. The vacant land was known as Lammas Lands, used for growing early crops or hay, were then thrown open for common grazing until the next Spring.
This was also the time for Lammas Fairs, where the custom for unmarried persons of both sexes, was to choose a companion according to their liking, with whom they were to live for a year and a day. After this period, if the couple were in agreement, a ritual “Handfasting” or hand in fist, ceremony was performed to seal the marriage.