Did you know harvest festivals can be found in many cultures across the globe? In the Northern Hemisphere, these festivals are often celebrated between August and November. This is the time of year when certain fruits, vegetables, and grains are ready to be picked. During late summer and autumn, many people give thanks to a successful harvest as they prepare for the long winter ahead. Let’s learn about some of these different harvest festivals!
Green Corn Ceremony (June–August)
For centuries, this annual ceremony has been performed by the Indigenous Nations of the Southeastern United States. The ceremony is a celebration of thanks for the ripened corn that is ready to eat. Traditions vary from Nation to Nation, but they typically involve dancing, feasting, fasting, and religious observations. The festival not only commemorates harvest, but also celebrates the beginning of a New Year. To signal a fresh start, homes and public spaces are cleaned, all fires are put out, and old food is eaten. The Green Corn Dance has been an important part of the ceremony and is is still performed by many Nations today.
George Caitlin's illustration of the Green Corn Dance in 1861.
Image credit: National Gallery of Art.
New Yam Festival (August–October)
This festival is an important part of West Africa’s history and marks the beginning of the yam harvest season. It is celebrated by the Igbo, Yoruba, and Idoma in Nigeria. The yam has been an essential part of these peoples' diet and is strongly tied to their spiritual beliefs and prosperity. The New Yam Festival gives thanks to a successful harvest and seeks blessings from deities and ancestors for the coming year. The vibrant celebration includes music, dancing, masquerades, and preparing a feast for the community.
Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival (September–October)
This celebration is considered one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. The festival takes place in September or October when the moon is believed to be its fullest and brightest. Its origins date back over 3,000 years when it was first observed to show gratitude to the moon for a good harvest. Today, celebrations include ceremonies to give thanks, spending time with family, and eating mooncakes. Depending on where you are, these circular cakes can be filled with sweet-bean, egg yolk, meat, or lotus-seed paste. Mid-autumn festivals celebrating the full moon can be found throughout Asia, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Mooncakes like these are typically eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Photo by Huong Ho on Unsplash.
This Jewish holiday is celebrated over several days and occurs in September or October. In Hebrew, the word sukkot means “huts” or “booths” and refers to the temporary dwellings that the Israelites used as shelter as they wandered the desert for 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt. During harvest, workers would build similar huts in fields when harvesting crops. Today, Jewish families may spend time in a sukkah, or booth, during Sukkot. This traditional structure is typically built with a wooden or metal frame, and the roof is covered with vegetation such as wood, stalks of grain, or corn. The inside may also be decorated with lights and hanging fruits and vegetables.
This autumn holiday is celebrated in Germany and German-speaking regions in Austria and Switzerland. In German, the word “erntedankfest” means “harvest thanksgiving.” On this day, there is often a church service where an altar is decorated with fruit, vegetables, crowns of wheat, and loaves of bread. Traditions vary from region to region, but many communities decorate their homes, hold parades, and choose a Harvest Queen who wears a wreath made of wheat.
Decoration for Erntedank (harvest festival similar to thanksgiving) in the protestant church in Bonfeld, Bad Rappenau, Germany, in October 2020. © Roman Eisele / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
This Persian festival dates back over 2,000 years and originates from the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. Mehregan is dedicated to the deity Mehr—the god of friendship, love, and affections. It is also a feast of harvest and often called the Persian Festival of Autumn. Traditions include preparing a table or sofreh that is decorated with dried marjoram, Zoroastrian scripture, a mirror, flowers, nuts, and fall fruits like pomegranates, grapes, and apples. The sweet drink sharbat is also commonly drunk during this festival. Mehregan is celebrated by Iranians and Persian communities around the world as a way to honor their cultural heritage and give thanks.