Ambling Along into August


August is the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fifth month of the year to have 31 days. In the UK, the hottest days of the year are often in August and it is a busy time for holidays as it falls in the six week summer break for schools. Similarly, in many European countries, August is also the holiday month for workers.

In the southern hemisphere, August is the equivalent of February in the northern hemisphere.
The original Latin name for August was Sextillis as it was the sixth month in the then Roman ten-month calendar, when March was the first month of the year. August became the eighth month around 700 BC when January and February were added to the year by King Numa Pompilius who gave it 29 days. The extra two days were added by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian calendar in 45 BC.

In 8 BC the month was renamed August in honour of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC until AD 14). Augustus is said to have chosen to name this month after himself because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt. The Latin term Augustus mensis means Month of Augustus. 

Statue of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (27BC-AD14) as a younger Otavian. Sculpted artwork dated around 30BC. Located int the Mus

So what else can I say about this summer month? Here are a few facts:

  1. August’s birthstones are the peridot and the sardonyx:

2. Its birth flowers are the gladiolus and poppy. The gladiolus represents beauty, strength, love, marriage and family. Poppies come in different colours but it is the the red one that is associated with August and it signifies pleasure.

3. The zodiac signs for the month of August are Leo (until August 22) and Virgo (from August 23 onwards):

4. The Anglo Saxon name for August was Weodmonath, meaning Weed Month. The word could refer to herbs or grass, as well as the unwanted plants we think of as weeds today. August was the month when all plants grew the most rapidly. The Venerable Bede (672/3 – 735) tells us: ‘Weodmonad means ‘month of tares (vetches), for they are plentiful then’. (The spelling of the word here is how Bede spelled it and (for a change) isn’t a typo on my behalf!)  Unfortunately I have no photos of weeds, as Nick won’t allow them to grow in our garden 🙂 but I have a not-too-wonderful photo of vetch growing along the lane:

5. Henry VI Part 1 and The Tempest are the only Shakespeare plays that mention August.

6. Warren Harding was the only US president to have died in the month of August.

Warren Harding. Photo taken 1882. Author:unattributed Public Domain

7. Certain meteor showers occur in August, including the Kappa Cygnids and the larger Perseids meteor shower.

156 (meteor) bodies detected in the sky on a single photographic plate during the Leonid meteor shower in 1998. Source: Astronomical and geophysical observatory at Comenius University in Modra, Slovakia. Author: Juraj Troth. Creative Commons

8.  In Ancient Rome, the festival of Supplica Canum was held in August every year. It was an annual sacrifice in which dogs were suspended from a furca, (fork) or a crux (cross) and paraded around the city. In the same procession, geese were honoured by being carried around adorned in purple and gold. The tradition stemmed from a nighttime siege of Rome by the Gauls during which the watch dogs failed to bark. On that occasion, it was the noisy, honking geese that alerted the city to the attack. The failure of the dogs led to them being ritually punished every following year. Gruesome!

9. On a more cheerful note, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the  U.S. I believe it involves the promotion of goats cheese as a healthier option than cheese made from cow’s milk. I love all cheese. In fact, I think I’m probably a cheeseaholic.

10. Lammas Day is in August and is a holiday celebrated in some European countries as a thanksgiving for the harvest. The name, Lammas, comes from the Anglo Saxon word hlaf-maesse, meaning loaf mass. The festival of Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest  and people say prayers in church for the first corn to be cut. (Note that in Britain ‘corn’ has traditionally referred to the cereal crops of wheat, barley oats and rye and not maize.)

Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping hooks on a calendar page in Queen Mary’s Psalter. Dated around 1310. Author: Anonymous. Public Domain

In the medieval period, farmers made loaves from the new wheat at Lammas, and gave them to the church to use in the Communion. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534. Today, harvest festival services are at the end of the harvest in September, with Michaelmas Day (Sept 29) traditionally being the last day of the harvest season.

Lammas Day used to be a time of foretelling marriages and trying out partners (trial marriages). This was usually for 11 days, the duration of the fair. At he end of that time, if the pair didn’t get on they simply parted. Lammas was also a time when farmers gave each of their farm workers a gift of a pair of gloves. And to bring good luck, farmers would let a loaf of corn bread go stale, then crumble it up into the corners of their barns

August is a month for several festivals in Britain. These are 3 of them:

  1. The Edinburgh Festival. This was started in 1947 to celebrate the performing arts and includes concerts, plays, ballets and operas.
A street performer in the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh fringe in 2004. No machine- readable author provided. Creative Commons
  1. The Royal National Eisteddfod in Wales. Eisteddfod is an old tradition which was revived in 19th century. It originated in medieval times as a gathering of bards and minstrels, all competing for the prized chair at the noble’s table. It is held in the first week of August and attended by people from all over Wales.
Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, in 2012. Flag bearers in traditional Celtic dress parade in a festival of traditional folk music and dancing. Shutterstock image

3. The Notting Hill Carnival in London. This festival is held on the last Monday of August i.e. Bank Holiday Monday in the UK. It is a colourful procession with elaborate costumes. It originated in the 1960s to celebrate the cultural traditions of the many Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain at that time.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London, 2014.Author: David Sedlecky. Creative Commons

I found this great quote which fits in so well with the theme of festivals in Britain – and Europe in general. (Harry/Henry Rollins is an American musician, actor, writer, television and radio host, and comedian.):

Every summer, from late July and into August, I find myself in Europe, performing at any festival that will have me.’ – Harry Rollins

There are many anniversaries to be celebrated in August, worldwide, and  these are merely a few of the many British ones:

  • August 1st 1774: Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen at Bowood House in Wiltshire
  • August 4th 1914:  the First World War started.
  • August 14th 1945: the Second World War ended.
  • August 15th 1872: the first regular police detective force was formed.
  • August 25th 1919: daily flights between London & Paris began, thus starting the first international air service.
  • August 31st 1997:  Princess Diana was killed killed in car accident in France.

And to finish with here are some photos from the lanes around our village and in our garden:

All are bright with developing fruits and berries. Many of the early (sown last autumn) barley fields have already been harvested, although there are still a few fields of spring-sown barley around. The wheat has yet to be harvested:

And absolutely lastly, here are a few photos of our garden as we amble along into August. I was delighted to see the lovely butterflies in our front garden this morning (August 1st). They really love the Buddleia davidii bush!