Lughnasadh (pronounced [ˈlu.nə.sə]) is the celebration of the beginning of the harvest in Gaelic paganism and Wicca. It occurs on 1 August (2 August in Wicca), approximately halfway between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox. It is one of four seasonal celebrations in Gaelic pagan tradition (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane), and one of the eight major Wiccan festivals on the Wheel of the Year.
In later history, it has given rise to secular festivals celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, some of which include Christianised forms of the ancient pagan practice of making pilgrimages to hills and mountains. On Reek Sunday, a Christianised festival based on Lughnasadh, people make pilgrimages to the top of Croagh Patrick in Ireland.
Today, reconstructions of the festival are celebrated by Celtic neopagans and Wiccans as a religious holiday. It is also a cultural holiday to some people in the Gaelic lands.
According to Gaelic mythology, Lughnasadh was started by the god Lugh in honour of the death of his mother, Tailtiu, who died clearing Ireland for agricultural purposes. Lugh is said to have started it as the Óenach Tailten (modern Irish: Aonach Tailteann), or Tailteann Games.
The Óenach Tailten were held in Tailtin in Co. Meath, Ireland, and similar to the Ancient Greek Olympics in that they consisted of various sports and games, including horse racing. It is believed that Óenach Tailten predates the Greek Olympics by about a thousand years; some place its origin in 3370 BC.
Matchmaking was also a common practice at Óenach Tailten. Young couples held hands through a hole in a door as a religious ceremony united them. A year and a day later, this marriage could either be forgotten or continued officially.
Goods were traded on Lughnasadh. These included harvested grains such as corn, as well as livestock, like cattle. Since Lughnasadh celebrated the harvest, a big feast was conducted, which consisted of harvested crops and meats and milks from livestock. Crops were also offered as sacrifices atop hills and mountains; at the very top, they were buried. Here, the gods would accept them. Sacred bulls were also sacrificed. Bilberies were gathered on Lughnasadh; to this day, Gaelic harvest festivals taking place around 1 August include picking bilberries. Ancient customs dictated that, after picking bilberries from the sides of mountains, they were eaten on the spot or gathered for later use.
There was also a religious aspect to the Lughnasadh festival. People walked sunwise around wells praying for good health in return for offerings of coins or "clooties" (strips of fabric or cloths), hence "clootie wells". Religious stories were also retold through plays; in one such play, Lugh is shown confining a monster blight or famine. Very rarely, bonfires were lit in open-air celebrations. This may reflect Lugh's being called "the Bright One".