the wheat harvestIn North America, we think of thankfulness in November. But the harvest season begins in August and goes all through the fall. Right now is the season of gratitude.

The end of summer and early autumn begins the flurry of reaping the earth’s bounty before the cold weather arrives.  From August on, the grain harvests begin.  These were highly celebrated for millennia, particularly by the Europeans whose very survival through the bitter winter depended on a successful stock of the late summer-autumn grains.

Back in the days when life revolved around the availability of food (unlike today, where modern farming techniques and world-wide shipping enable us to get just about any food we want at any time), this was an exciting and critical time of the year.

There are several festivals celebrated throughout the harvest time. The first is early August, honoring the beginning of the harvest (called Lammas or Lughnasad); the second around the Autumnal equinox (known as Mabon); and the third at the end of October, Samhain, expressing gratitude for the last of the crops before settling in for colder weather.  In America, we have added our traditional celebration of Thanksgiving, but many don’t realize that the season of thankfulness started long before November for our ancestors.

Lammas, in early August, honors the grains that sustain many through long, cold winters.  In Europe, the first grains to ripen were usually wheat, barley, and oats, although they were all often lumped in the category considered “corn” – not referring to the yellow corn we are accustomed to in North America, but a general term referring to grain.

Everyone in the community participated in the harvest, as their survival depended on its success.  The word Lammas comes from the words “loaf mass”, celebrating the bread made from this first grain.  The baking of the bread was considered a sacred event, from the reaping and grinding of the grain, to removing it hot from the oven and serving it.

The Europeans weren’t the only ones to have an early harvest celebration.  In many areas of Africa, especially in Ghana and Nigeria, the popular Yam festival is still held in August, following the end of the rainy season. Yams are the first crop to be harvested, and the most common food in many African countries.

For the early Native Americans, by late summer and early Fall the stalks of corn ripened, and it was a time to rejoice.  Creek, Seminole, Iroquois, Yuchi, and Cherokee nations held the Green Corn festival.  This typically happened during the full moon when the first ripe ears were ready for harvest, and the tradition continues today.  The ceremony lasts for several days, and includes the tasting of the initial crop through various corn-based foods, singing, dancing, and playing.

In some of the European country-folk traditions, the second harvest festival (called Mabon after a Welsh god) occurred around the autumnal equinox, and it often celebrated the grape harvest, as well as the continued bounty of grain.  Seeds were gathered for planting future crops.  Certainly the Greeks found this an important time of the year, as they honored Dionysus, their god of wine and resurrection.

Then in late October, at the last harvest holiday known as Samhain, was the celebration of the apple harvest, and pomegranates, too.  Samhain also honors the coming darkness of winter and the spirit world. The final crops of grains and vegetables were reaped, celebrated, and the people settled in for the dark and cold time of the year. We see bits of this last harvest festival in our secular holiday of Halloween — for example, the tradition of bobbing for apples!

Around the world, similar rites honor the blessed grains throughout early fall.  In Britain, the first sheaf of corn was traditionally offered to the Gods in order to ensure a good harvest next year, and for fertility.

The Chinese celebrate Chung Ch’ui with the Full moon that falls on the 15th day of the eighth month (typically in early Sept.).  This is considered the birthday of the moon, and special “moon cakes” are baked in a round shape to honor that celestial sphere.  Jewish, Greek, Indian, and Roman traditions have held their own harvest festivals, usually later in September or October.

What all these celebrations have in common is gratitude. It is a season of feeling grateful for the bounty that the earth has provided us.  From now through our American holiday of Thanksgiving in November, remember that the meals on your table have, for ages, been sown, grown, and harvested by the blessing of Mother Nature.  We have distanced ourselves so much from this process that we may not notice the harvest from season to season or month to month at our grocery stores.

Get back in touch with the cycle of seasons and the gifts of the earth that we take for granted.  Starting your own garden palpably connects you to the experience of sowing, growing, and reaping.  You’ll never experience what you eat the same as when you’ve grown it yourself, and you can’t help but feel grateful with each fresh and vibrant bite. If that’s not feasible, buy your fresh fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market and you’ll experience the change of crops from month to month.

Then, see if you can take it a step further.  Visit a farm: especially an organic farm that rotates its crops depending upon the season, and marvel at the stalks of wheat, the swelling pumpkins and squashes, the glistening grapes heavy on the vine, or the rosy apples ready to be pressed into cider.

Of course, the perfect celebration of this first harvest is baking bread from your favorite grain.  As you inhale the delicious aroma and place the first bite in your mouth, feel it as an expression of gratefulness for all that you receive.  May you carry this gratitude in your heart through the end of the summer and deep into the autumn season.

Read more about a new way to practice gratitude – any time of year – with this Thanksgiving Connecting Gratitude Practice!


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