When is Harvest Festivals (07.05.2018)
Observed in Worldwide
Observed on Exact dates vary but are usually in autumn
Observed by General Public
Agriculture is one of the oldest occupations of human civilization. Ever since people learned that they could grow food rather than having to go out and look for it, they have cultivated the soil and reaped the rewards for their labors. Its adaptation led to the development of cities, writing, and, eventually, books. Surplus food had to be stored somehow, so towns grew up around the storage sites.
Ancient people had to keep track of their stored food, which led them to create cuneiform and clay tablets, which led to alphabets and papyrus. The ancients wisely thought it worthwhile to express their thanks to the natural elements that helped or hindered the growth of their crops. Having seen years of drought, famine, and pestilence, there was always a lurking fear that the harvest might not be so bountiful in the season that followed. This concern led them to try propitiating supernatural powers, so as to avoid incurring their wrath or displeasure and, thereby, to ensure a good harvest. What had originated in fear or apprehension gradually evolved into a socioreligious occasion for feasting and the enjoyment of good food and companionship.
Origins and History
Since time immemorial, human beings have been celebrating harvests of fruits, grains, and vegetables yielded by the Earth. Over millennia cultures in different parts of the world developed rituals and ceremonies to acknowledge the generosity of Mother Earth and to thank her for the crops that ensured the well-being of each community.
Prior to the establishment of formal religions ancient farmers believed that their crops were inhabited by spirits who caused the crops to grow and to die. It was also believed that these spirits would be released when the crops were harvested and wreak their vengeance upon the farmers.
Therefore, those spirits had to be destroyed. Some of the ancient rituals were thus meant to neutralize such spirits and celebrate their destruction.
With the passage of time people realized that the crops harvested in autumn must see them through the winter. Hence whatever spirit or power provided the bounty deserved praise as well as gratitude.
Their perspective shifted from rituals to defeat potentially harmful spirits to ceremonies formulated to thank the deities for a good harvest and to pray for similar good fortune in the next season.
Harvest festivals have been celebrated for thousands of years in every culture-the Chinese, the Greek, Egyptian, Sumerian, Amerindian, and Hebrew-and they continue to be important events in modern societies. One of the earliest recorded harvest rituals took place in ancient Greece. It honored the generosity of the goddess Demeter, who taught people to tend the soil, and took place during a month called Pyanopsion (Puanepsion), according to the lunisolar calendar of the Athenians. Pyanopsion falls in October–November on the Gregorian calendar. The story about Demeter and her daughter Persephone illustrates how both good and bad harvest years were accounted for.
It seems that Hades, the god of the underworld, was quite taken with Persephone’s beauty and abducted her, taking her with him into the underworld to be his wife. So intense was Demeter’s grieving for her daughter that she withheld her powers, refusing to feed herself or to provide food for mortals. So the other gods, disturbed by the situation, determined to resolve the conflict between Hades and Demeter. Because Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds that Hades had given her, the gods decided that she could spend half the year on Earth with her mother, but she had to spend the other half in the underworld. It is winter on Earth during the half of the year that Persephone is in the underworld; the half of the year she spends with Demeter brings us spring and summer.
The Algonquian peoples had thought out the entire agricultural process and celebrated six different harvest festivals in the course of a year. Each one was intended to protect a phase in the growing season.
The first thanked the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup. The second was the planting feast, when the seeds to be sown were blessed. The strawberry festival followed, celebrating the first fruits of the season. The green corn festival was held in the summer to give thanks for the ripening corn and in late fall the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had harvested. The midwinter festival was the Algonquians’ last ceremony of the old year.
In several Asian countries-China, Taiwan, and Vietnam-the Moon Festival is held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which occurs in mid-autumn. The full moon represents abundance, harmony, and good luck; people celebrate with picnics or special dinners, which are sure to have mooncakes as one of the sweets provided.
The ancient Romans celebrated Cerelia, a harvest festival dedicated to the goddess Ceres (Demeter in Greek). Daughter of Saturn and Ops and the wife of Jupiter, Ceres was their goddess of corn; the word “cereal” is derived from her name. In May Malaysians celebrate a festival to give thanks to their rice god. In addition to agricultural shows there are buffalo races. In some parts of Africa good grain harvests are celebrated, while in West Africa the Festival of Yams goes on for several days, and the people offer yams to their ancestors and the gods.
When the subject is religion, early peoples in Europe are collectively called “pagans,” regardless of the content of their cultural beliefs and religious observances, because that is what the Romans called them, and the Roman Catholic Church followed suit. In Latin, paganus means “country dweller,” from the word for “country,” pagus. Certainly the various Indo-European groups had their own gods that had to be propitiated, such as Celts and the Teutons. In its very early, formative years, before its holidays and feasts had been established, the church aggressively appropriated not only pagan holidays and festivals but their symbols as well in its quest for converts to Christianity.
While scraps and rumors of those centuries are mostly what remain, some elements from the pagan religion, mostly Celtic in origin, can still be found, and Neo-Paganism has done much to preserve the rituals and festivals. There are three pagan harvest festivals: Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain. Lammas (also called Lughnasadh) occurs in early August and celebrates the harvest of grain. Mabon, which falls on the autumnal equinox on September 21, celebrates the harvest of fruit. Samhain, on November 1, is the time for the harvest of meat, among other things, and it is celebrated with huge bonfires. It is believed to have also been the Celtic New Year.
Some of its symbols and activities can be found in the Catholic feasts of All Saints’ Day (November 1), All Souls’ Day (November 2), as well as in Halloween (October 31).
The Hebrews celebrate a harvest festival they call Sukkoth. Held in autumn Sukkoth has been observed for over 3,000 years, and Jewish families continue to honor this tradition. Known as Hag ha Succot (“Feast of the Tabernacles”) as well as Hag ha Asif (“Feast of Ingathering”), Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur.
While most harvest celebrations used to, and still, take place in the autumn, the ancient Egyptians held theirs in the spring. The Egyptian harvest season coincided with the festival held in honor of Min, god of vegetation and fertility. It featured a parade in which even pharaoh took part.
After the parade a lavish feast was held, accompanied by music, dancing, and sports.
When Egyptian farmers harvested their corn, they wept and pretended to be grief-stricken in order to deceive the spirit, which they believed dwelt within the corn. If this was not done, they feared that the spirit would become angry when they cut down the corn in which it lived.