Harvest Festivals

For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, I suspect there has been some form of Harvest Festival or, at the very least, a really great dinner when the harvest was done. The following is an overview of various Harvest Festivals celebrated in different times in history and/or in different parts of the world.

The Algonkian tribes at the time of the pilgrims held six harvest/thanksgiving festivals during the year. The first gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Midwinter was the last ceremony of the old year.

The Mid-Autumn Festival or Chinese Moon Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Mid-Autumn is a time for family and loved ones to gather and enjoy the full moon that is a symbol of abundance, harmony and luck. Families enjoy picnics or special dinners. Adults will usually indulge in many different varieties mooncakes with a good cup of piping hot Chinese tea. Along with the delicious mooncakes, children enjoy brightly lit lanterns, puppet shows, and lantern processions.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in places other than China. Among these are Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam.

In India, Onam is celebrated in the month of August or September. Onam celebrates the bounties of nature and a year of good harvest. The festivities begin ten days in advance and flowers adorn every home. A procession of elephants, fireworks, and dances are part of the festivities. A boat race is one of the main attractions of the holiday and the celebrants turn out to watch the beautifully decorated boats. Onam also celebrates the mythical King Mahabali and his golden rule. Feared by the gods that he might become too powerful, he was sent into exile in the nether world. The gods, however, did allow him to return once a year to visit his people and be assured that they are happy.

The Festival of Malaysia is celebrated each May to give thanks to the rice gods. Agricultural shows, cultural programs, buffalo races, and traditional games are held. There is fun and feasting throughout the Festival.

Chu Suk is a Korean Festival that takes place during the harvest season. Families travel to their ancestral sites. Memorial services take place and visits of respect are made to the grave site of ancestors. After the Memorial services, there is a special meal to celebrate and be thankful for each other. The night before Chu Suk is the time for Kang Kang Sue Wol Lae. Kang Kang Sue Wol Lae is a traditional ceremony where women gather in a circle and sing songs. Other activities that take place during Chu Suk are wrestling, archery, singing folk music, and a game called turtle tag. Altogether, Chu Suk is a time of feasting and happiness.

African peoples have always had festivals at the times of the harvest. In some parts of Africa good grain harvests are a cause for celebration. In other parts of Africa there is the Festival of Yams. Tribes of West Africa, for example, celebrate the yam harvest with days of ceremonies and offerings of yams to their ancestors and to the gods.

Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in India. People prepare for Pongal with spring cleaning and the burning of trash. The festival, itself, lasts three days. The first day is a day for family and for giving thanks to the rain gods. The second day is set aside to worship the Sun God, Surya. The third day celebrates cattle. The community gathers for a feast of freshly harvested rice.

In the Pagan religion, there are three harvest festivals. Lammas celebrates the harvest of the grain. Mabon celebrates the harvest of the fruit. Samhain, among other things, is the time for the harvest of meat.

In the Jewish religion there is the harvest festival of Sukkot.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. Years before the Pilgrims, in the year 1578, the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. Much like in the United States, the tradition continued unofficially until 1879 when Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday. The October date was officially established in 1957.



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