Definitions

harvest supper

Harvest festival

A harvest festival is an annual celebration which occurs around the time of the main harvest of a given region. Given the differences in climate and crops around the world, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world. Harvests festivals typically feature feasting, both family and public, with foods that are drawn from crops that come to maturity around the time of the festival. Ample food and freedom from the necessity to work in the fields are two central features of harvest festivals: eating, merriment, contests, music and romance are common features of harvest festivals around the world. In Asia, the Chinese Moon Festival (中秋節) represent one of the most widely spread harvest festival in the world. In India, Holi in February-March and Onam in August-September are just two famous harvest festivals. In North America, Canada and the US each have their own Thanksgiving celebrations in October-November.

In Britain, thanks have been given for successful harvests since pagan times. The celebrations on this day usually include singing hymns, praying, and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food in the festival known as Harvest Festival, Harvest Home or Harvest Thanksgiving.

In British churches, chapels and schools, people bring in food from the garden, the allotment or farm. The food is often distributed among the poor and senior citizens of the local community, or used to raise funds for the church, or charity.

In the USA and Canada,many churches also bring in food from the garden, or farm in order to celebrate the harvest.

Also in the USA and Canada, the festival is set on a certain day and has become a National Holiday known as Thanksgiving. In North America it has become a national secular holiday with religious origins, but in Britain it remains a Church festival giving thanks to God for the harvest.

The Harvest Festival in Britain

Harvest is from the Anglo-Saxon word hærfest, "Autumn". It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. So in ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. This moon is the full moon which falls in the month of September.

Customs and traditions

An early Harvest Festival used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers made loaves of bread from the fresh wheat crop. These were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service thanking God for the harvest.

Early English settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. The most famous one is the harvest Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrims in 1621.

Nowadays the festival is held at the end of harvest, which varies in different parts of Britain. Sometimes neighbouring churches will set the Harvest Festival on different Sundays so that people can attend each other's thanksgivings.

Farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called a harvest supper. Some churches and villages still have a Harvest Supper.

The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service.

As British people have come to rely less heavily on home-grown produce, there has been a shift in emphasis in many Harvest Festival celebrations. Increasingly, churches have linked Harvest with an awareness of and concern for people in the developing world for whom growing crops of sufficient quality and quantity remains a struggle. Development and Relief organisations often produce resources for use in churches at harvest time which promote their own concerns for those in need across the globe.

In the early days, there were ceremonies and rituals at the beginning as well as at the end of the harvest.

  • Church bells could be heard on each day of the harvest.
  • A corn dolly was made from the last sheaf of corn harvested. The corn dolly often had a place of honour at the banquet table, and was kept until the following spring.
  • In Cornwall, the ceremony of Crying The Neck was practiced. Today it is still re-enacted annually by The Old Cornwall Society.
  • The horse, bringing the last cart load, was decorated with garlands of flowers and colourful ribbons.
  • A magnificent Harvest feast was held at the farmer's house and games played to celebrate the end of the harvest.
  • Harvest is celebrated by many people but in Christianity, it is widely looked at in schools, and focused on in church.
  • Harvest is mainly associated with fruit and vegetables, for which we give thanks. This is the whole point of the Harvest Festival.

See also

References

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