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Harvest Festival is celebrated in Autumn. It is important that all children know how our food is produced and that traditionally food production involved ploughing, sowing and harvesting.
The celebration of Harvest in Britain dates back to pre-Christian times when the success of the crop governed the lives of the people. Saxon farmers offered the first cut sheaf of corn to one of their gods of fertility, in order to safeguard a good harvest the following year. The last sheaf was thought to contain the Spirit of the Corn, and its cutting was usually accompanied by the ritual sacrifice of an animal - often a hare caught hiding in the corn. Later, a model hare, made from straw, was used to represent the continuity of the Spirit. This practice eventually led to the making of plaited 'corn dollies', symbolising the goddess of the grain. These were hung from the rafters in farmhouses until the next year. When the harvest was in, a celebratory supper was held to which the whole community was invited.
Click here for a Corn Dolly story.
Harvest Festival celebration in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. This led to the long-practised custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce. Services are held to give thanks for the goodness of God's gifts in nature. After the services the food is often distributed to the elderly or to those in need.
The celebration of harvest is common to many other cultures as well. One of the most familiar is Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the Tabernacles. It commemorates the 40 years that the Jews spent in the wilderness on their way from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. During this festival Jews build themselves sukkot, which are fragile little shelters decorated by fruit, vegetables, twigs and leaves. Blessings are given to God using the 'four species', a symbolic selection of fruit and leaves comprising lulav (a palm shoot), hadas (myrtle leaves), arava (willow leaves) and etrog (a citron or large lemon). The objects probably symbolise the final harvest of the year, although there are several other interpretations.
For further information about Sukkot click here.