Lammas Eve

By Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon

31 July

The last day of July is the eve of Lammas, a day of celebration of the first fruits of harvest. The tradition of Lammas—or Loaf-Mass in Anglo-Saxon—is to attend Mass and give thanks by eating part of the Lammas bread, which is a decorative loaf made with the first yields of the new crop.

Though harvesting would traditionally begin after Lammas, the first ears of wheat would be cut on Lammas Eve, ground, made into dough, shaped, then baked in to a loaf for the parish in the shape of a bushel of wheat or a farmland or woodland animal. Fruits and salt would be used for decorative purposes, and the loaf would be presented on the church altar at the Lammas service the following day. Historically, tenants that farmed leased land would present the first cut of their harvest to their landlords on Lammas Eve, which some landowners would use to hold a celebration for themselves and sometimes their workers known as the Feast of the First Fruits that night or the Gule of August on Lammas itself.

Each Lammas eve gay youths and maidens came,
To dance and sport around that hallow’d tree,
On the smooth moss-clad, flower-deck’d grassy lea,
That stretch’d around a mile on every side.

William Hetherington, Braithwaite Hall: A Poem of the Feudal Times

Lammas marked the end of hay-making season, which began at Midsummer, and so it was often custom to let a sheep loose amongst the workers as they finished their shift, and whoever caught it could keep it as a gift. There was also a darker side to Lammas Eve, as it was believed the Devil would be unhappy about the coming harvest and try to disrupt the forthcoming Lammastide celebrations. He would supposedly do this by dispatching Old Boggy, who would knock on the doors of innocent men after sunset on Lammas Eve and drag them to Hell by their britches or bootstraps. As such, it was customary to not answer the door after sundown on the night of 31 July.

The Lammas bread is a popular custom still throughout the United Kingdom. Though many of the other folklore traditions associated with Lammas Eve have passed, baking the bread still occurs the day or night before Lammas itself.

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon
Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon, Public Domain
Support this content