03 November 2018 by Roy Preece
People ask when is the Harvest Festival in England. We have just heard of the traditional Moon Festival in Taiwan and the new Farmers Harvest Festival in China. But when is the English festival?
Well, it depends on what you mean by festival. The Christian churches have a special thanksgiving service when the church is decorated with produce and familiar well-loved harvest hymns are sung. This should be on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon; and the harvest moon, as in Taiwan, is the full moon nearest the autumn equinox.
But in practice churches may choose any convenient Sunday at the end of September or in October. We have one vicar (priest) for three churches so she (yes, the vicar is a lady) will hold the festival on three different Sundays in October.
A different sort of celebration was traditionally held quite logically whenever all the harvest had finally been gathered in. The farmer would provide food and drink for all the labourers and their families on that evening in his house or in a barn. The aim was to have all the harvest finished by Saint Michael’s Day, or Michaelmas, which is always the 29th of September.
Symbolic of this event was the final sheaf of corn. The spirit of the corn was believed to be present in the last bundle of corn. Often this would be used to make a corn dolly, a decoration plaited out of the straws of the last sheaf. Although this is a pagan idea, churches usually display a sheaf of corn, or maybe a loaf of bread made in the shape of a sheaf in a central place on the altar at the harvest festival.