The Harvest Festival in England

We give to the Needy.

Give to those that need.
Give to those that need.

Thanksgiving is a prominent national holiday in the United States and Canada. It is celebrated in October on the second Monday of the month in Canada and on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States. In the United Kingdom, they do not celebrate a thanksgiving day, but since 1843, have had a Harvest Festival. The Harvest Festival is a celebration of the food grown and harvested on their land and is celebrated in churches.

They celebrate this day in their churches by bringing items of food in a service known as “Harvest Festival Service”. This serves as a remembrance and suggestion that they share their bounty with others who are less fortunate. After a special Harvest Festival Service, any food that was brought to the churches are packed into smaller bundles and are distributed to the needy.

Harvest Festival was celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on August 1st and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers would make loaves of bread from their wheat crop. They would donate them to their local church. This bread was used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. The custom lasted until Henry VIII quit the Catholic Church.

Today the harvest festivals are at the end of the harvest season. Harvest Festivals are traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. This would be the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 23). Most years, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. The Harvest Festival is not a national holiday in Britain.

The traditional Harvest Festival themes of thanksgiving and sharing are celebrated at Feed The Children (UK) each year. Traditional non perishable food items, water and blanket donations are welcome as well as monetary donations. The drive supports not only the need for any emergency relief, but a number of needy African countries. The monetary donations are encouraged to fund the shipping costs of the donated items.

Why is there not a traditional Thanksgiving Day in the United Kingdom? Well,  early English settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. So, Thanksgiving is an American holiday. It celebrates the day that the pilgrims made peace with the Native Americans and had a big feast that lasted for three days. It is an American custom that has no historical relevance in Britain. As mentioned, they do have Harvest Festival, which originated in 1843 and resulted in the custom of decorating churches with home-grown products. And like an old joke suggests, they couldn’t take a turkey to the church because he uses such fowl language!

When you think about it, here in the United States, we do have a similar celebration with our Thanksgiving. We are both giving thanks for our blessing from God and those who are more fortunate are encouraged to give to those who are in need. The spirit of the two celebrations are the same. Our recognition of these holidays are not the same and the manner in which the people celebrate are not the same. The celebration in Britain takes place today in the churches. In fact, celebrating Harvest Festival in church is a relatively recent practice. It was originally a pagan festival celebrated by those who had enough food since medieval England. In America, there are Thanksgiving Day masses offered, but are not mandatory and really serves as a way to feed our souls instead of the needy.

Despite these differences, the spirit of the day remains the same. Over the years, I have been selfish. Things in my life were good and it was all about creating a feast that was way too expansive for us to eat. Today, I realize, I have a lot to be thankful for. I have many troubles in my life today and there are a number of unknown situations that could be devastating to my family and me. Yet, I am thankful for what we still have and for having had better days in the past. I am thankful for the love and closeness of my family. We are blessed with three children, two grandchildren and good health. There will still be food to eat. As bad off as we may be right now, I know there are others less fortunate than me.

Today, I pray for all the sick and suffering. I ask for forgiveness of my wrongs and guidance for my day ahead. I do what I can to help others and I always remember to thank Him for what we do have. I do look forward to this years Thanksgiving, just as I am sure there are people in the United Kingdom who will celebrate their Harvest Festival for the same reasons.

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