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Harvest and Hallowe’en

The original version of this post appeared on More than Writers on 31st October 2016. I have updated it to include the differences in celebrating Harvest and Hallowe’en in 2020 with a pandemic compared with previous years.

The date of my original post is a controversial one in October.  Celebrations of Hallowe’en are regarded with anything ranging from acceptance to horror by different Churches and individual members of the Church.  Merchandise connected with Hallowe’en appears in shops before the start of the autumn term.  More and more families and businesses are putting up decorations.  Here in the UK it is not as prevalent as in the US, but is it growing.

By 31st October many churches will have celebrated a Harvest Festival or Harvest Thanksgiving.  There is no set date for this.  It is not a Red Letter Day.  By contrast Hallowe’en can be placed in the Church calendar.  It is the day before All Saints’ Day.

Celebrating and giving thanks for the Harvest is a long tradition.  In the lands where the Bible stories were lived out there were harvests of different crops at different times of year.  In the story of Ruth harvests of different crops (and their failure) form the backdrop.

I live in a village surrounded by farms; harvest is an important part of life.  It is hardly surprising that Harvest Festival is usually one of the best attended services.  In 2016 the Reader, who gave the address at our service, mentioned a crop, which may not be well-known in drier parts of the country.

The expression make hay, while the sun shines is all very well, but where the land is often soaked by the damp (very wet) weather from the Gulf Stream, hay has been replaced by silage as a fodder crop.  As I understand it silage is made from grass, which has not been dried out fully to make hay.  It is partly rotted by the time the animals eat it and has a distinctive rather sweet smell.  Before Harvest Festival, I had already decided that my photo for the original post would be of some novelty silage sacks at a farm.

When I was close enough to take my photo, I could also read the name of the supplier of the sacks.  Carrs Billington had been running a competition on Facebook and raising money for a charity for sick children – WellChild – through these novelty sacks.  (The previous year there were some pink sacks for a Breast Cancer charity.)

In 2020 our Harvest Festival was rather low-key. The church building was not decorated lavishly with flowers and fresh produce to distribute later to the very elderly and those in hospital or care homes. Instead there were donations of non-perishable items for the local foodbank. The service was attended by a few people, while others watched the live-stream or caught up later.

October has brought our thoughts to Harvest and God’s good gifts to us and to his creatures.  It will soon be Hallowe’en for which the UK government has issued guidelines. Do you expect any Trick or Treaters to call?  How would you treat them?  I know this is something I am not good at.  Some people might give them home-grown apples as an alternative to the sweets they expect.  Other options are specially produced leaflets with a Christian message and perhaps a puzzle. It is likely that children tell their friends which houses have welcomed them.

Personally I’d prefer October to be remembered for Harvest, but the majority of people are likely to think of Hallowe’en first.

Harvest

There is no fixed date for the celebration of Harvest Festival or Harvest Thanksgiving in the Church of England.  From various Tweets I have concluded (possibly incorrectly) that the spread of dates is the last Sunday in September to the second Sunday in October, which is when the Church I attend celebrates harvest.

I grew up in a village the size of many towns.  A village does not have a market.  I’m not sure whether by that definition it ever became a town, but we called it one anyway.  It was in the suburbs of London.  Fields, crops, herds and flocks were not features of our daily lives.

Harvest Festival there included presenting fruit and vegetables from suburban gardens.  For the children there was sometimes instruction about how food is produced.

As an adult I have mostly lived in rural areas.  From my window I am able to watch the changing seasons.  There are fields with sheep, cattle and horses.  Crops include oil seed rape, winter wheat, barley, grass (silage for fodder) and vegetable crops.  One year there was a maize maze.

Everyone in the community is aware of the effect of the weather on the crops.  We see the farm vehicles moving along the lanes.  We are not far removed from the work, which puts food on the table.  Many of us know some of the farmers.  However the local newspaper included a comment from 150 years ago that Harvest Festivals were not common in this area then.

The tradition of giving thanks for the harvest is an ancient one.  In the Old Testament there were two harvests.  Their details are given in Deuteronomy 16, with instructions for the offering God required.  Later they feature in the Book of Ruth – a lovely story and only a few chapters long.

It is easy to take the food we eat for granted.  We should remember to give thanks for all our food, clothing and all that we have and enjoy.

Harvest Festival is a time when communities meet together for this purpose, remembering that it is the Lord God almighty, who provides and giving to others less fortunate than ourselves.