History of the Harvest Festival

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In the past the Harvest Festival was celebrated at the beginning of the harvest. It was called Lammas, meaning ‘loaf-mass’. A loaf of bread made from the new crop would be brought to the church. These loaves were used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. Lammas Day is 1st August. At the start of the harvest, a community would appoint the ‘Lord of the Harvest’ who would take responsibility for negotiating the harvest wages and looking after the workers.

When Henry VIII left the Catholic church this tradition stopped, and instead the end of the harvest was celebrated with a big harvest supper, eaten on Michaelmas Day, 29th September. The church bells rang out, and the cart bringing in the last harvest load was decorated with flowers. Nowadays in the UK it is traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (22nd or 23rd September). 

Harvest Festival Around the World

The harvest is celebrated in countries around the world.

In the US and Canada, Thanksgiving takes place in October and November.

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is an important national holiday in China. It is held on the night of the full moon, and celebrates the family coming together, as well as giving thanks for the harvest.

The Jewish festival Sukkot (Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles) gives thanks for the harvest.

Celebrating the Harvest Festival

Here in the UK there are church services to celebrate the harvest festival. People bring food, usually tins, which is shared with the needy in the community. A service is held to offer prayers of thanks for the harvest.

Increasingly harvest festival is a community celebration not a religious one, emphasising the importance of following the seasons, and eating seasonal food, locally grown. For example, ‘Bring Home the Harvest’ is an initiative by caterers to bring locally sourced produce, suitable to the seasons, in particular the autumn harvest, into hospitals. The Harvest Food Festival in Cornwall is now a popular annual event, with cookery demos, beer and music.

Make your own bread

Traditionally a loaf of bread in the shape of a wheat sheaf is made for the harvest festival. This is simple to make out of bread dough. The dough uses less yeast than usual, so it rises more slowly, given you time to shape it into the wheat sheaf.

You will need:

  • 2lb strong wholemeal or white flour
  • 1 pint water
  • 1 packet instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp oil

Mix together all the ingredients and knead until smooth (5-10 minutes).

Then you need to shape it into a wheatsheaf.

Roll out one piece into a rough mushroom shape. This forms the base of the wheat sheaf. Make dough into cylinders to form the stems of the wheat.

Take a small pice of dough and rub it between your palms. This will form the shape of a piece of wheat. Make lots of these and lay the wheat around the base, in circles.

When you’ve finished, bake in the oven at 220 C / gas mark 7.