Harvest: A Festival Of Food
by Sara Whatley
This year the Harvest Festival falls on the 23rd September when glorious displays of produce will be gathered and celebrated. Sara Whatley tells us more.
Every year I am surprised by the arrival of the first early blackberries in late July. To my mind they are a signifier of the start of crisper mornings, of autumnal mists and a time of harvest celebrations, but there they are every year in the blazing sunshine in their clusters of green, red and black drupelets. They are the start however, the start of the serious fruit and veg glut which ramps up until we are laden in August and September. Then the harvest is underway, the crops are gathered and it’s time to celebrate with the Harvest Festival.
It is one of the oldest and most traditional British festivals taking place at the time of the Harvest Moon (a full moon that is seen nearest to the time of the Autumn equinox), which this year falls on the 24th September. Harvest celebrations are traditionally held on the Sunday nearest to or of the Harvest Moon, this year the 23rd September.
The origins of the Harvest Festival in Britain bring us right back to pagan times, when thanks were given for a successful harvest. It was a vital time of the year, when success was a matter of life or death. A successful harvest ensured the local community would be fed throughout the potentially barren winter months. The word ‘harvest’ comes from the Old English word haerfest meaning ‘autumn’, the season for gathering the food of the land.
Harvest festivals are celebrated around the world, from the Rice Harvest Festival in Bali which is held in May and June, to the Moon Festival in China, Taiwan and Vietnam, so called as it coincides with the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. ‘Mooncakes’ are the special delicacy consumed during this festival. They consist of a thick, round pastry with a rich filling of red bean or lotus seed paste and sometimes salted duck egg yolks surrounded by a thin, sweet crust.
Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th September as a marker to the end of the Harvest Festival. Traditional celebrations include feasting on a goose which is said to bring financial protection for the following year.
Schools, community groups and Christian churches celebrate Harvest Festival especially, although church celebrations only began in earnest in Victorian times. Baskets of produce and gifts of food are gathered together in fabulous seasonal displays, often with the traditional corn dolly nestled amongst the harvest. Much of the gathered food is then donated to those in need, and special collection days and drives are set up to donate food to charities. UKHarvest is a charity working in West and East Sussex with a mission to nourish the nation. They collect surplus food from all sorts of outlets and deliver it to charities and are especially busy at this time of year with Harvest donations. Brogan Rehill said, “We have a dedicated collection driver this year who will hopefully collect larger donations gathered from the Harvest Festival.”