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"The Thankful Receiver Bears a Plentiful Harvest" ....William Blake

Giving Thanks for the Harvest

In North America in 2014, it is easy to overlook the significance of the harvest season. I must admit, I usually give very little thought to where my food comes from. I rarely think about how much work goes into getting those foods to the shelves at Kroger. I haven’t even planted a single seed, but I can run to the store and bring home apples from Washington and avocados from California, and even fruits and vegetables that are not in season, like those bananas from Guatemala. We have this incredible access to all kinds of healthy foods (and some not-so-healthy ones), year-round, and it’s good to give thanks and celebrate the harvest.

As I look forward to my family’s harvest celebration, Thanksgiving, I am tempted to spend my time worrying over how to cook the turkey (probably roasted) and how to fit everyone at the table (obviously, we will need more than one) and how to make sure all the dishes are ready at the same time (they won’t be). But this year, instead of worry, I’m going to try for wonder. What a profusion of provisions! What a glorious bounty of good eats! What a wonderful time to give thanks.

Want to know more about Harvest Celebrations?

For many thousands of years, ever since the beginning of the agricultural revolution (when humans learned to domesticate plants, rather than just hunting and gathering), people have celebrated the harvest. The painstaking toil of planting, sowing, cultivating, watering, and feeding is finally paying off! After all the months of labor, the bounty of the land can finally be enjoyed. The reaping of the harvest has been celebrated in all lands at all times throughout history:

In ancient times, the Romans celebrated Cerelia and the Greeks celebrated Thesmophoria, paying tribute to their deities and celebrating with feasting, music, parades, and games. The ancient Chinese celebrated Chung Ch'ui, a three-day harvest festival, observed when the full moon fell on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. The ancient Egyptians placed a statue of the god Min on the harvested fields and celebrated with parades, music, dancing, and sports.

The celebrating of harvest has continually been observed right up to modern times. We North Americans, call our harvest celebration Thanksgiving. In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, and in Canada on the second Monday in October, but they are celebrated in much the same way — with family, food, and football. And definitely turkey. The Canadian holiday was first celebrated by the arctic explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578, and became an official holiday in 1879. In the U.S., the holiday began in 1621 in Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts, when the Pilgrims and the Massasoit and Wampanoag tribes shared a three-day feast, celebrating their successful crop. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

  • In Israel, the harvest is celebrated at Sukkot, and is a remembrance of the time when the Israelites wandered the desert, living in huts. During Sukkot, families build temporary huts (sukkah) in which they live for seven days.
  • In Mendoza, Argentina, the month-long Vendimia celebration begins on the last Sunday of February, when the Archbishop gives thanks for the grape harvest and offers the new vintage to God. The festival includes fireworks, music, entertainment, dancing, parades, and the Harvest queen pageant.
  • In Bali, Indonesia, the rice harvest is celebrated with worship and offerings to Dewi Sri, the rice goddess.
  • In Magione, Italy, the two-day Olivigando festival celebrates the olive harvest with a medieval dinner at a 12th-century castle.
  • In France, La Fete de la Moisson (the festival of the harvest) often includes music, parades, and exhibitions of agricultural items.
  • In Britain, the harvest festival is usually held on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon (the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox). An early British harvest festival was called Lammas (loaf Mass). Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to the church for communion bread during a special Mass thanking God for the harvest.

Whatever your national, cultural, and family traditions, don’t forget to really celebrate the harvest this year. Marvel at the bounty and enjoy every bite of turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and sweet potatoes. 
Be thankful . . . even if you do get stuck at the kids’ table:-)

For more information on harvest celebrations, see: