I am here to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but as I do that I realize that the genre of the Ren Faire and the culture of the Rennie is not one that includes the idea of Thanksgiving. So, to that end, dear reader, we are going to look at the medieval harvest festivals – in particular the celebration of Lammas, certainly a time of thanksgiving for those people and what might have gone on at those celebrations. There will not be canned cranberries and fried turkeys, nor shall there be copious amount of football, but I hope you find it interesting.
This is an oldie but a goodie. Lammas Day was a medieval celebration of the harvest. Traditionally this celebration was held on the first day of August. This was usually the end of their harvest. The day might change due to a the harvest coming in late and the people of the Middle Ages were just superstitious enough to hold the start of their celebration until all of the crops were in, until the harvest had been finished. Once all of the crop had been harvested, the people could begin the celebration. They would eat, dance, make sport and celebrate if nothing else another harvest finished, another crop brought in and stored for the next year.
At these times, the people of these Medieval villages would cook. Bread was baked, vegetables were cooked and cattle was slaughtered for the feast. Everyone brought their best to Lammas Day and I would imagine that it was much like our celebration of Thanksgiving today. Except of course, they did not burn down the barn while they were frying a turkey. They also probably didn’t pass out in front of a game of rounders due to the quantity of turkey they had just eaten. They did have their own particular traditions however.
Lammas Day Traditions
Corn Dolly – The medieval people would make a doll out of corn shucks. The corn dolly was then stored in the barn with the harvest. The next spring when they began planting the new crop, the corn dolly was buried near the crops to ensure that they had a good crop the next year.
Scattering the Bread – Bread would be made from the first of the harvest. This bread would be allowed to go stale and then the people of the town would tear the bread into four pieces and scatter it in the 4 corners of the barn. This was also to signify good luck.
Playing Towers – This is my favorite of the Lammas Day traditions. This one comes from Lammas Day celebrations in Scotland. They would build towers out of peat and other natural elements. They would raise a flag in the middle of it and then some of the men of the towns would charge to other villages to tear down their tower while some of the men stayed behind to defend their tower. Obviously, this devolved into a brawl but what better way is there to celebrate the harvest then to be the crap out of your neighbors. You don’t have to work the land the next day, it has been harvested so you can afford a fist fight. You have to love the Celts.
So this year, if you choose not to do the Thanksgiving thing, remember that you can celebrate Lammas Day. Make a corn shuck doll, scatter some bread and of course, tear down your neighbors peat tower. Remember the things you are grateful for, whether for good crops or for anything else.