Lammas or Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nah-sah) is generally celebrated by Pagans on 1st August, a date pretty much midway between the Summer Solstice (aka Litha) and the Autumn Equinox (aka Mabon). Many of us use the terms 'Lammas' and 'Lughnasadh' interchangeably (I am guilty of this myself). So what exactly is the difference between the two?
In many ways they are the same festival. Lughnasadh is the Gaelic name for this date, and literally means 'Lugh's Gathering'. Some people have interpreted the nature of the Gathering as a wake for the God Lugh, in his role as a sun deity - the summer sun now beginning to wane as the days begin to shorten as we move further away from the Summer Solstice when the sun's influence was at its peak - and others as a celebration of His wedding. What is certain is that Lughnasadh was marked by great gatherings of people (often high on hills or mountains or at holy wells), celebrating the harvest of the 'first fruits', feasting, matchmaking and athletic competitions.
Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon name for the festival and is a contraction of the words 'Loaf Mass' and also celebrates the harvest of 'first fruits', in this case specifically the beginning of the grain harvest. The first loaves baked from the new crop of wheat, barley or rye would be taken to church to be blessed.
Lughnasadh has more obviously ancient roots and may therefore appeal more to purists, Lammas has the advantage of being easier to spell and pronounce! Or there's the Welsh name for the festival, Gŵyl Awst, (pronounced Gool OWst) meaning 'August Festival'. Either way I think in this case unless you are following a specific Tradition whichever name you use is fine, rather like Samhain/Hallowe'en. Yes, they do have different overtones but as long as people get the general gist of what is being spoken about it probably doesn't matter too much to most of us.
What does matter is the meaning of the festival. It is a time for celebration - community gatherings, reaping the results of hard work, the beginning of (hopefully) a time of plenty for all. But interestingly it is tinged with sadness too. The sun is beginning to wane, the end of the summer (though still at a distance) is beginning to be glimpsed. The God of the Grain, in order to feed His people must be sacrificed. Just around the corner is winter - will it be harsh? Will there be enough of a harvest to ensure the community can get through the long, dark days? No wonder our Ancestors gathered together to celebrate while they could, to give thanks for the harvest gathered in.
Nowadays most of us are lucky enough to have food security, yet it is still a good time to pause and count our blessings. One way our local Pagan community has often celebrated this is with a 'Basket of Abundance' at our Lammas ritual. Everyone brings a small, wrapped gift (or gifts) to put into the basket and during the ritual it is passed round for everyone to draw something out (it's a bit like a Pagan 'Secret Santa'!). If you don't have a group to celebrate with you could still have fun giving out little token gifts to your friends and family. If you're a gardener and have excess fruit and veggies, or flowers and herbs, you could take some round to your neighbours. Or a lovely idea would be to donate food to your local Food Bank, or a few hours of your time volunteering at a homeless shelter. Or you could give unwanted items to your favourite Charity Shop, or tins of dog/cat food and old blankets to an animal shelter. In these times of (relative) plenty and security, let's share our abundance with those who need it.
Blessings of the harvest to you!