Monday, August 1, 2016

Lamas Day

Among the old European pagan festivals that have impacted our Christian calendar, the ancient harvest festival of Lamas Day on August 1 - midway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox - is among the less well-known. In today's post-Christian paganism, it is certain dwarfed by Samhain, the ancestor of both the Christian and the contemporary Halloween. And some of our surviving Christian festivals like Christmas and even Candlemas keep the customs of their pagan antecedents more conspicuously in view.

In the Middle Ages, Lamas Day marked the end of the hay harvest and the festive beginning of the wheat harvest. (The fourth of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries. Saint Peter's Fair, takes place at a medieval Lamas Day fair.)

In the Celtic way of computing the seasons, today would thus mark the beginning of autumn - a nice thought as we continue to suffer through the summer's heat. By this point in summer I am always eagerly looking for any sing of the seasons to come!

In fact in many places today, the beginning of August does herald the next season, as vacations come to an end and schools prepare to resume in another week or so.

Until 1960, Lamas Day survived in the Christian calendar as the feast of Saint Peter in Chains. Hence the title of the Cadfael story set at Lamastide. (The photo above is of the relics of Saint Peter's Chains on display in the Basilica of that name - San Pietro in Vinculi - in Rome.) It was also the ancient feast of the Seven Maccabees, those heroic Old Testament martyrs, whose heroic sacrifice of their lives anticipated the many martyrs of the New Testament and the age of the Church up until our own day which is seeing so many new martyrs - as recently as last week.

Meanwhile, Election Day is now 99 days away. I am old enough to remember when presidential campaigns were more or less thought of as autumnal events happening every only fourth year. But, thanks to our unhealthy political polarization, campaigns are now for all practical purposes permanent and continuous - with clearly catastrophic consequences for governance. All that the post-convention period actually adds is a designated candidate (who nowadays has usually been informally designated already by our problematic primary process) and count-down closeness to the final Election Day deadline. 

That said, this year's early conventions have conspired to create this next phase of our secular political calendar. And what should we expect from this slightly more than one-quarter of a year that now lies before us? More revelations furthering Vladimir Putin's agenda, from that vicious organization Wikileaks, whose head is hiding in a London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged rape? And more haggling by Donald Trump about when to debate Hillary Clinton? (Debate dates were set by the Debate Commission one year ago, but Trump claims to have problems with some of them.)

Despite all that, this will certainly not be an election to skip, however strong the temptation to do so! Certainly, this will not be one of those campaigns that seem to be fought over trivial issues or in which the candidates express only mildly different policies and mildly different views of the world. However unruly and snarky the performance, the stage has nonetheless been set for one of the most consequential elections in modern American history. 

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