Feasts of Thanks

“Come ye thankful people come/ Raise the song of Harvest Home.”

I suspect that ninety percent of the cultures on Earth practice some sort of harvest thanks ritual. I say only ninety percent because those cultures that focus on, or derive from, purely nomadic herding traditions seem to have offered thanks, but not specifically for harvest. Otherwise, you find prayers or meditations all around the world that urge believers to stop and express appreciation for the bounty of the season. After all, it is polite to say “thank you” for a gift given by another person, so how much more important is it to show gratitude for the things that make life possible, especially in places with seasonal climates? In Europe, the idea of Harvest Home developed and was preserved in England especially. The last sheaf of grain was cut, and in some places tied into the shape of a corn dolly to represent the spirit of the harvest. Harvesters carried the sheaf or dolly to the manor house or village with much celebration, and it was expected that the landowner would provide drinks and a feast for the workers as they celebrated “harvest home.”

“All is safely gathered in/ Ere the winter storms begin.”

Unprotected grain and hay rot quickly, and grain left too long in the fields can become almost impossible to harvest. Wheat will actually sprout on the ear under certain conditions. Maize stalks become very tough and difficult to cut when they get wet, not a major concern in the days of hand-picking but a real problem for modern combines. Soybean stems will do the same, and people get badly hurt or killed trying to clean the tangles out of the combine while the internal gears are moving. Because harvest happens at break-neck pace some years. I’ve seen combines harvesting winter wheat as lightning flashes on the horizon, men (and some women) pushing themselves and their equipment to the break point, wheat chaff turning into yellow fog in the spotlights shining down onto the cutting head as the wind swirls it around the machine and the truck running along side. In Europe, winter storms and wet weather caused more famine and dearth than did summer drought, and winter storms could ruin crops and strand people. The harvest is not secure until the last bit is safely in storage, locked away from rain and mice.

“G-d our maker doth provide/ for our wants to be supplied.”

Whether or not you believe in a higher power, gratitude for the harvest is not a bad thing. You may abhor modern monocrop farming and think fondly of a world of small farms, genetically diverse heritage breed crops and livestock, and support a locovore or farm-to-table program in your area. But food, plentiful and inexpensive food, and inexpensive fiber for clothes and textile goods, are recent developments. And whether you eat locally grown potatoes and farm-fresh eggs, or acquire your main dish from a large agricultural corporation, it is good to give thanks. You may thank a deity, or the goodness of the Universe, or just think appreciative thoughts about the people who worked to provide your feast, be that feast the traditional turkey with stuffing (or dressing), or pizza delivery, or the local Chinese buffet. But a moment of thought is always appropriate.

As the hymn invites:

“Come to G-d’s own temple, come/ Raise the song of harvest home!”

Wherever your temple may be, I bid you a wonderful and peaceful Harvest Home.