The Harvest Festival. What does this mean to you? What feelings and images are conjured when you contemplate those words? Abundance, pumpkins, misty mornings, alms to the poor, autumn leaves? Harvest celebrations have taken place across the world, through different cultures (both surviving and extinct) for as long as we can remember. In Britain, the Celtic pagan festivals gradually transformed into the Christian ones, but the theme of gratitude at harvest time endured. Whether you are thanking your god(s), Mother Nature, or both, the collection of the harvest has been – and is – something to ecstatically celebrate.
I vividly remember the Harvest Festivals we had at primary school: the fancy dress competition, the collection of produce brought in by the students, the hymns, the tombola, the parents’ assembly. It was an occasion of fun, and it was definitely my favourite time of year. Even now, as an adult, autumn and the harvest give nourishment to my soul. I get excited when I see pumpkins, and revel in the beauty of the rich autumnal colours.
But, as an adult, I have noticed a distinct lack of celebration of the harvest nowadays. I think this is a great loss to all of us, and it makes me wonder why the celebrations now seem to be few and far between. I am no expert, but I have a few thoughts.
We have become increasingly disconnected from the Earth, and from each other. To me, Harvest Festivals evoke a sense of community – people came together to collect the fruits, reap the corn, and get the stores ready for winter. They celebrated the abundant gifts together. They got the soil on their hands as they farmed and collected, fingertips stained purple from berry picking, and bodies sheened with sweat as they cut down the wheat. They worked hard for it, and they watched the plants grow into incredible fruits and vegetables. They prayed for rain, and for sun. They saw the growth process, and lived and felt the cycle of nature.
Most of us are no longer involved in this process; we are obviously glad of something to eat, but because we are not actively engaged in the growing and harvesting process, we take our food for granted. On some level we know we are lucky to live in a country where food and water is readily available, but there isn’t the appreciation and sense of satisfaction that comes from working for something. With our supermarkets packed to the rafters with food shipped in from across the globe, we are no longer amazed by the bounty of harvest time. And, as a society, we are growing more withdrawn from each other. We appear to be more inclined to sit in front of our TV than engage in our local community. With all the negativity on the news, there is a lot of fear and a lot of mistrust.
However, I do believe that things are starting to turn around. More and more local communities are rallying together. Allotments are more popular than ever. Healthy, organic foods are becoming fashionable. For every news report that announces new damage to our environment, there are good souls that step up as champions of our planet.
Through my studies of mythology, it became apparent to me that rituals and ceremonies are massively important to us as human beings, whether we ascribe to a religion or not. They give us focus for our thoughts and feelings, a sense of belonging and a way to engage with something bigger than us as individuals. They are family affairs, and community affairs. They make us feel stronger because we are together.
“increase your awareness of the Great Mother who gives so abundantly of her fruits, her grain; of her flowers and her healing herbs. She gives to humankind sustenance: but also her comfort, her healing and all the blessings of physical life. You have reason to thank the Great Mother for all these gifts.” – White Eagle.
The Harvest Festival is the perfect opportunity for us to reconnect with each other. A family or community gathering reaffirms our bonds with others that will help us get through the darker and colder months. And, these bonds are just as important now as they were for people living in wattle and daub huts facing the full brunt of the weather, huddling together to tell stories and keep warm. In our modern age that is rife with depression and anxiety, family and friendship are vital for our emotional wellbeing and survival. Harvest Festivals are a time for fun, laughter, dancing joyously, starting up the log fires, and eating sumptuously.
They are also a time for truly appreciating and connecting with our food. Now it a great time to get out in nature and re-engage with it: have a family outing in the woods to seek out blackberries, go to a pick-your-own farm, help out at an allotment or community garden, or go to a farmers market to see the produce in all it’s glory – unpackaged and natural. When we are fully engaged with our food and understand the time and effort it has taken to grow it (on the farmer’s and particularly nature’s part) we will no longer take it for granted. We will see it for the miracle that it is, and we will love our planet.
The Harvest Festival is all about gratitude: gratitude for the Earth that sustains us, and for the people we can share its bounty with. This gratitude should be expressed all year round, but I think the Harvest Festival is a really good opportunity to start shifting our collective mindset towards one of a more simple, connected, gratitude-filled lifestyle. It is a shift that I truly believe is necessary, and that will give us the fulfillment we seek on a soul-level. And happy people leads to a happy planet!