August kicks off with the Neo-Pagan/Wiccan holiday of Lughnasadh in the northern hemisphere (which corresponds to Samhain in the southern hemisphere.) Lughnasadh, with its Gaelic roots, falls on Aug. 1, the cross-quarter date between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. It also corresponds with the English/Christian holy day, Lammas.
The purpose is to celebrate the first harvest of the year. In the pagan traditions, the merry-making includes honoring the God Lugh, participating in athletic contests, feasting, visiting holy wells, and making berry offerings. In the Christian traditions, the focus is on the wheat harvest, home-made bread, and Holy Communion.
August also offers several important holy days in various Asian traditions (and one from the Islamic tradition).
Raksha Bandhan (Aug. 3): Raksha Bandhan honors sibling relationships. Girls tie an amulet-like bracelet, called a rakhi, onto their brothers’ wrists. In return, the brothers offer gifts and a renewed commitment to protect their female siblings. Nowadays, with increased gender equality and varying concepts of “family,” all sorts of sibling-like relationships are celebrated. You can even buy mass-produced Raksha Bandhan greeting cards!
Festival of the Tooth (July 25-August 4): This holiday, also called Esala Perhera, is celebrated by Sri Lankan Buddhists. It honors the Buddha’s Sacred Tooth, a relic that arrived in the country in the 4th century C.E. (about 800 years after the Buddha’s death). The 10-night festival includes nightly processions of elephants, drummers, dancers, acrobatic performers, flag-bearers, and of course, the tooth! It also falls on the dates associated with ancient supplications for rain.
Obon (Aug. 13-15): Obon is a three-day Buddhist holiday in Japan. Like Mexico’s Day of the Dead or the Pagan/Wiccan holiday of Samhain, Obon is a time to honor one’s ancestors. Graves are cleaned, and ancestors are invited to household altars so they can be sent to their final, permanent resting places. Lanterns, fire rituals, carnivals, and summery kimonos are also part of the ceremonies. While mid-August is the date for most Japanese, Obon is also celebrated in July or according to a lunar calendar (Sept. 2 this year) in some regions.
Muharram (Aug. 20): Muharram is the first day of the new year (1442) on the Islamic calendar, so it’s somewhat like Rosh Hashanah for Jews. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so Muharram begins whenever the new moon is sighted. The 10th day of the month marks Ashura, a holy day in which Muslims commemorate the murder of Muhammad’s grandson. He was an especially important figure in Shi’a Islam, so Muslims adhering to that set of traditions often mourn during the entire 10-day period, and some self-flagellate as a sign of mourning – a practice that is becoming increasingly controversial.