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Celebrating the Harvest Around the World

Picture of Kiyoko Nakatsui

Kiyoko Nakatsui

Education Coordinator

Harvests are celebrated all around the world and here in the US many people celebrate the harvest through Thanksgiving. However, there are many other harvest festivities to discover.

In China, and Taiwan people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. This festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon, or mid-September to early October in the Gregorian calendar. This is when the moon is believed to be the brightest and coincides with harvest time in autumn. Families come together during this time to sample the autumn harvest, light lanterns, and worship the moon. It is traditional to eat mooncakes, a pastry filled with a sweet dense filling and or a salted egg yolk and stamped on top with a beautiful design or message.

In South Korea people celebrate Chuseok. Like the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This is the largest traditional holiday in South Korea, which celebrates a good harvest and is a time when many visit their ancestral homes to share a feast. Traditional foods, like sangpyeon, yakgwa, fruits, and rice wine, are served. Other traditions that take place are charye and seongmyo, which is accompanied by beolcho. Charye involves the harvesting, preparation, and presentation of special foods by the family as offerings to their ancestors. Seongmyo is the visiting of ancestral graves, while beolcho is the tidying of them.

In western Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana, the Igbo celebrate the New Yam Festival. It also shares similarities with the Mid-Autumn Festival, as it is also based on the moon cycle and is a community harvest festival. This festival celebrates what ties their communities together as being agrarian and their dependence on yams. Although other crops are harvested earlier, the only one to receive such fanfare is the yam. The newly harvested yams are offered to the gods and ancestors by the oldest man, king, or leader, before being distributed to the villagers. This is an event with a variety of festivities, like folk dancing, masquerades, parades, and parties, that create a beautiful display of joy, thanks, and community.

In the United Kingdom people celebrate the Harvest Festival. In common with many harvest festivals, it is a ritual associated with giving thanks for a successful harvest as well as giving thanks for all the positive and good things in life. A gathering is held, traditionally at a church, where people bring produce they have grown or canned and packaged food. This food can then be used for a meal for attendees. Any surplus produce or food is typically donated to local charities, hospitals, children’s homes or auctioned for charity.

In Barbados people celebrate Crop Over. This was a way to mark the end of the yearly harvest, however it was not all positive. Originally organized and sponsored by planters, it was a way to use gifts of food and liquor to reinforce and excuse their use of slave labor. Slaves would also hold celebrations of their own during this time that honored their ancestral cultures. Due to World War II this celebration came to an end but was brought back in 1970 to attract tourists and revive old folk culture.

For all civilizations the rise of settlements was heavily influenced by the shift from gathering to farming crops. The ability to grow a more reliable quantity and quality of food helped to improve health and quality of life. A failed crop meant devastation, but a successful crop would bring prosperity, hence the celebration.

This is just a small sample of festivities you can find around the world that celebrate the harvest, each showing off unique aspects of the people and cultures they are celebrated by. With the rise of industrial agriculture and the privilege of consistent access to food we sometimes forget that a bountiful harvest was one of the biggest reasons for celebration. During this time of year remember to be thankful for all that you have, food, family, and friends.