In the United States, harvest festivals are commonly associated with Thanksgiving and fall. Throughout the world however, different countries have their own harvest celebrations and traditions. Some of these celebrations and festivals date back thousands of years and have inspired some of the harvest celebrations today. Often these festivals do not fall on any specific date, or even a specific month, but most do occur in the fall. Harvest festivals in the Northern Hemisphere are typically connected to the full moon that is closest to the Autumn equinox.
Harvest Festival Dates
- The Harvest Festival (U.K.) - September 23, or the Sunday closest to the harvest moon, which is the full moon that appears near the time of the Autumn Equinox. Some years however, this may occur in October as opposed to September.
- Thanksgiving (Canada) – The second Monday of October.
- Thanksgiving (USA) – The fourth Thursday of November.
- The Pongal Festival (South India) – January 14 or January 15.
- The Vaisakhi/Baisakhi Festival (North India) – April 13 or 14
- The Yam Festival (Ghana/Nigeria) – At the end of the rainy season. This is typically in August, but at times it occurs in September.
- Succoth Festival (Israel) - Succoth is in the Hebrew month Tishri, on the fifteenth day.
- The Moon Festival (The Far East) – The eighth month on the fifteenth day.
Harvest Festival Plants
As harvest festivals generally center around the harvest, they are often associated with some form of edible plant, or vegetable. Common foods that people will enjoy during this time include squash, potatoes, yams and corn. Yams, for example, are celebrated in Ghana and Nigeria during the Yam Festival. They are also popular at Thanksgiving in the United States. Corn is another vegetable that plays a significant role in many harvest festivals around the world. Pumpkins, apples and potatoes are common for countries in the Western part of the world. For Succoth, palms and a fruit called etrog are a part of the celebration. While in other parts of the east rice plays a role in their celebration.
- Family Culture: Yam Festival: This page provides information about the Yam Festival in Nigeria and Ghana. Discusses what yams are and how they are also associated with Thanksgiving in the U.S.
- Elements of Thanksgiving Meals: This website illustrates foods that are common during Thanksgiving in the United States.
- Harvest Festivals Around the World: Explains the traditions of various harvest festivals around the world. There is a focus on foods and plants that are a part of these celebrations.
Ancient Harvest Festival Celebrations
Many of today's harvest festivals have roots in ancient harvest festivals around the world. Some of the oldest celebrations were in Greece, the Roman Empire and Egypt. Often these celebrations were meant to give thanks to the gods of the time. These gods were typically associated with the harvest in some form. In Rome, the harvest festival was held in celebration of Ceres, who was their goddess of corn. In Egypt the harvest celebration was held in honor of Min. Min was their god of fertility and vegetation and it was held in the spring. The Sukkoth, or Succoth which is still celebrated today, is over 3000 years old.
The Holy Celebration of Succoth
The Succoth, or Sukkot, is the harvest festival that takes place in Israel. It is held in celebration of the Hebrews' travels to Canaan, which is known as Israel today. The name comes from sukkah, which were temporary huts that were set up for the travelers to worship and eat. The Succoth lasts seven days during which Jews build a sukkah. They must follow certain guidelines; however a simple sukkah can be built from branches, fruits and flowers. One side is left open and the roof is also left partially open so that the sky and moon can be seen from within.
British Harvest Festival Celebrations
The harvest festival in Britain is a celebration that is centered around the church and is considered a Christian festival. This has not always been the case however, as it was considered a pagan celebration until 1843 when celebrations began in the church. Prior to that time farmers figured prominently in the celebration and held what was called harvest suppers during the festival. Today churches hold celebrations and fruits and vegetables of the harvest are used to decorate the church which may also hold harvest suppers. Other current harvest festival traditions include the collection of food for the needy and the singing of harvest hymns.
- Harvest Festival: Harvest festival facts, customs and traditions. Also includes a brief history.
- Harvest Festival Information: A historical overview of the Harvest festival and its relationship with the church.
- Harvest: The brief look at the history of harvest festival
Thanksgiving Celebrations in the USA
In the United States the most popular and well-recognized harvest festival is Thanksgiving. This National holiday is a day for people to celebrate all that they are thankful for in terms of friends, family and the life that they lead. The celebration is typically centered around food and loved ones. Originally, Thanksgiving was held in 1621 as a celebration of the harvest in what was considered the "New World." It was shared with Native Americans and was seen as a sharing of food, culture and friendship. This original festival was taken from the traditions of the British harvest festival.
Canadian Thanksgiving Celebrations
The Canadian Thanksgiving is a combination of American and European harvest celebrations. Unlike the U.S. Thanksgiving, it takes place in October on the second Monday of the month. In 1578, before the first celebration in the United States, an English explorer by the name of Martin Frobisher held a celebration in thanks for his safe travels and his arrival in Newfoundland. Thanksgiving traditions were also brought into Canada by people from the United States after the American Revolution.
Harvest Festival Celebrations
Harvest festivals around the world typically have a common theme, regardless of where the festival takes place. This theme involves giving thanks for the year's harvest and good fortune. In addition, these festivals are generally also centered around other traditions for the specific region, such as honoring family or giving thanks to spirits. Plants that are used for food are also an important part of harvest celebrations. Crops and the celebration of food are connected to the world's harvest festivals more than any other type of festival.
- Top Ten Harvest Festivals Around the World: The ten top harvest festivals from locations around the world. This article appears on the National Geographic website.
- What is Harvest Festival: Explores harvest festivals in Britain and Africa. Explains the meaning of these harvest festivals and what they entail.
- Thanksgiving Around the World: A PDF that explores different Thanksgiving, or harvest festivals, around the world. Includes celebrations such as Sukkot, Autumn Moon Festival and Pongal.