Harvest festival

Every year we have a Harvest Festival in our schools and churches. Do you know why?

This is the time of year when all the crops have been harvested.

What is a Harvest Festival?

Harvest Festival is a celebration of the food grown on the land.

Thanksgiving ceremonies and celebrations for a successful harvest are both worldwide and very ancient. In Britain, we have given thanks for successful harvests since pagan times. We celebrate this day by singing, praying and decorating our churches with baskets of fruit and food in a festival known as ‘Harvest Festival’, usually during the month of September.

From a Christian perspective Harvest Festival reminds of all the good things they are given and this makes them want to share with others who are not so fortunate. In schools and in Churches, people bring food from home to a Harvest Festival Service. After the service, the food that has been put on display is usually made into parcels and given to people in need.

When is Harvest Festival?

Harvest festivals are traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 23). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. Unlike the USA and Canada, the UK does not have a national holiday for Harvest Festival. 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 new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. They were then used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season.

At the start of the harvest, communities would appoint a strong and respected man of the village as their ‘Lord of the Harvest’. He would be responsible for negotiating the harvest wages and organising the fieldworkers.

The end of the harvest was celebrated with a big meal called a Harvest Supper, eaten on Michaelmas Day. The ‘Lord of the Harvest’ sat at the head of the table. A goose stuffed with apples was eaten along with a variety of vegetables. Goose Fairs were and still are held in English towns at this time of year.

The tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches as we know it today began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service for the harvest 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.

Now let’s take a round brainstorming ideas for celebrating Harvest Festival in our school: arts & crafts, vocabulary bingo, basket preparation or colouring pages could be good ideas among others. Happy Harvest Week!

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