Have you ever thought about why you sang that song about all the fruits and vegetables, in primary school? You probably reluctantly sat in a school assembly, cross-legged and sang your heart out to the Harvest Samba without even realising it or the meaning behind the lesser known festival it was written for.
The Harvest Festival has been a long running tradition in Britain since the Pagan times. Although our Halloween originates from the Pagan festival of Samhain, our harvest festival was based off Lammas which celebrated harvesting. Although the Lammas festival was/is celebrated at the start of August, ours isn’t much later with it occurring in September, and sometimes even in October. Lammas was historically commemorated throughout the United Kingdom and the British Isles at the beginning of harvest season on August 1st. Lammas Day, is also referred to as Loaf Mass Day and is celebrated worldwide but particularly in the Northern Hemisphere and is celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere a month later, at the start of September. The ‘Loaf Mass’ relates to the Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, which is a commemoration of the Last Supper where Christians share wine or fruit juice and bread to represent Jesus’ body and blood. The ‘Mass’ also relates to the religious followers of Christianity. The word ‘harvest’ came from the Old English word of ‘haerfest’, relating to the time of year when people celebrate the picking of crops.
The Harvest Church Festival began in 1843, when Reverend Robert Hawker invited significant parishioners to a harvest thanksgiving service in the southern county of Cornwall. His congregation began with Victorian hymns, such as ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’ and ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ which are both still prominent hymns in church services now too. After the congregation sang hymns, they assumingly decorated the church, and this is where the tradition of harvest decorations came from.
The festival usually consists of singing hymns, praying and decorating Christian places of worship with plentiful fruit baskets and distinctive harvest foods. Harvest Festival is therefore typically a Christian celebration and honoured in Churches around the country with people donating fruit and food from to make baskets and parcels, often given to the unfortunate and people in need after the church’s Harvest Festival Service. Decades ago, the Harvest season was celebrated by church bells ringing at the end of each day and harvest banquets often being held at the village’s farmer’s house; their table brimmed with delicious meats, vegetables and fruit of the harvesting season.
As well as the decorating of Churches, the congregation often made Corn Dollies, which were a Pagan tradition and evolved from the belief in the Corn Spirit. The dollies were woven from the last sheaf of corn cut, they were thought to ensure a good harvest season for farmers across the country and were often woven and plaited into designs, placed on the dining table or at harvesting banquets many decades ago. The Corn Dollies tradition declined in the 19th century but in recent years, it’s became a hobby with some, with corn being shaped into hearts and ornate designs when bored.
Harvest Festival is celebrated every year, typically held on the Sunday of the Harvest Moon; the full moon which occurs closest to the autumn equinox, happening around the end of the eighth month of September, with it even being celebrated in October. In comparison, although it’s a Christian festival such as Christmas and Halloween, it doesn’t have a national holiday for followers and it’s now celebrated by people whom are non-religious. Harvest Festival is one of the lesser known times of year and I hope with this article, I’ve broadened your knowledge on the celebration and even some admittedly repetitive harvest hymns.
Article by Young Reporter Beth Downes
First appeared in Grimsby Telegraph 17th November 2020