According to Celtic calendrical reckoning, Autumn begins with the Festival of Lughnasadh, July 31- August 1, and Winter will officially begin at Samhain, October 31-November 1. As I write this in mid August, we are thus currently within the season of Autumn, and Winter is right around the corner.
For me, each season has its own delights, and I'd be hard pressed to say which is my favorite. That having been said, there's something so magical and special about Autumn, that each year when it comes around, I'm convinced IT'S's my favorite season - but that only lasts till winter arrives! Autumn is such a sensual and colorful season - with the colorful beauty of the turning leaves and the special blue that the sky seems to take on. And Autumn is so full of contrasts: the hot days of summer's last hurrah, and the cooler, crisp days that foretell the winter; the colorful leaves, and then, a few weeks later, the barren branches; the ebbing power of the Greening Tide of the year, yet the building power of the Cleansing Tide of the year.
So what are some ways to celebrate the waning days of this season of Autumn, which is in itself, the waning of the Year?
Lughnasadh - This is the season of John Barleycorn - the God of the Grain whose life story is depicted in the old ballad bearing his name. This is the height of summer's warm weather, and the time of the first harvest, which is often the grain harvest. In the Catholic Anglo-Saxon lands this celebration became known as Loaf-mass, or Lammas, after the liturgical celebration of the loaves of bread made from this first grain harvest.
In ancient Ireland, Lughnasadh was a time of fairs and festivals, a gathering of the tribes for purposes of games of skill, exchanging of goods, and finding spouses. This time of tribal gathering had been found, legends told, by the God Lugh in honor of his foster-mother, the Earth Goddess Tailtui.
Our family celebrates Lammas/Lughnasadh with a special harvest feast, in which the foods of the season are served. The highlight of the feast is a special harvest loaf, and the singing of (or listening to) the John Barleycorn song, and really, really thinking about what it means.
Harvest Home - This is another name we use for the Autumn Equinox . This is a time of equal day and equal night, but after this the balance tips, and moves into darkness. This is the time of the second harvest. After this harvest is in, one can rest and enjoy the fruits of one's labors. We celebrate this time with a Thanksgiving feast, similar to the American Thanksgiving, and with seasonal foods served. This feast includes not only grains, but also the late fall and winter vegetables and fruits now in the markets. In particular, apples and blackberries play a big role in our feast.
Our family uses this time of year to prepare ourselves for moving into the dark of the year, and we spend time thinking about the winter to come. We reflect upon the summer past, the harvests brought in, and the coming time of rest and regeneration. We think about what is still left to do in preparation for the cold, dark time ahead....And we make those necessary preparations, on both inner and outer levels.