February 1, 2023

Bread, Beer, and BBQs – The First Harvest of Lughnasadh


The days are starting to grow shorter, but the weather will begin to be at its peak of warmth and sunshine. These are the brown summer months when the cicadas drone on, the heat swelters, and you kick up dust as you walk outside foraging for plants. At night a gentle breeze reminds you that autumn is on the way.

While the Northern Hemisphere is approaching Spring, February 2 is Lughnasadh or Lammas in the Southern Hemisphere. Although the celebrations of Lughnasadh and Lammas are similar and fall on the same date, they have very different origins. Lughnasadh is a Celtic festival named in honor of the god Lugh. Lammas, however, is an early Christian festival with Anglo-Saxon roots. There is no wrong way to celebrate this season, as we all have different celebrations that we honor. However, for this blog, I will concentrate on the festival of Lughnasadh.

Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the fruiting season. While some trees are late flowering, such as the rata and houhere, most native trees are now fruiting for the first time. Orange karaka berries stand out against their dark green leaves. Taraire is in fruit, and kereru flock to feed on tawa berries.

This used to be known as a ‘Lean Time’ for Maori, as the main kumara crops were not yet ready to harvest, and stored supplies from the previous year were starting to dwindle, though flourishing fungi would now be gathered if other resources were growing low.

In Celtic tradition, this was a time to celebrate the harvest alongside the Celtic god Lugh with Olympic-like events, fairs, and bonfires. The cut of the First harvest has always been a powerful custom throughout Europe.

At dawn, the first bundle of grains would be ceremonially cut, winnowed, ground, and then baked into a harvest bread which the community would share as thanks for the first harvest. The first barley stalks would be made into beer. Grain has been important in civilization since ancient times and is associated with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. 

Traditionally, the celebrations around Lughnasadh would have lasted two weeks, and why not? Today Lughnasadh is often a time of taking holidays before the school year kicks into full swing, community building, and giving thanks.

It’s the perfect time to crank up the BBQ, gather with friends and whanau, and enjoy the fruits of the season. Have a big feast, make sure you include plenty of bread and beer (or barley water if you prefer alcohol-free celebrations), and be thankful for the food you have! Lughnasadh is all about celebrating the harvest and your hard work. Do whatever feels like a celebration of your work this past year – treat yourself!

 This is also an excellent time to consider donating to others less fortunate than you. Most supermarkets have a donation bin at the exit – if you can buy one (or more) extra can of soup or other items to drop in a donation cart in the spirit of recognizing the lean times of Lughnasadh in our history. 

Lughnasadh is a time to contemplate not just the traditional harvest of food but your inner harvest as well. What energies do you want to harvest and feast upon in the coming months? Positivity, love, happiness, creativity, charity, magic, justice? There is no wrong answer here. Take a moment during these hot days and pause in the shade to contemplate what you wish to reap in the coming months. What are the best ways to invite an abundance of those energies into your life? 

Enjoy the remains of the summer months, and may your harvest basket be full and spilling over.

Athena Macmillan is a traditional witch from a Romani family who has been actively practicing witchcraft for 28 years. Athena is an outspoken advocate for inclusivity and intersectionality within the Craft and has postgraduate degrees in Anthropology and Health Law. She is a hedgewitch and medium with a strong focus in her personal magical practice on ancestral and spirit work, journeying, and divination. Athena created the online space ‘Kiwi Witch’ as a place for witches throughout Aotearoa to learn and support each other along their spiritual paths, which has been thriving since it was established in 2015.

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