Harvest festivals have been with us since the earliest of times. The basic theme for these festivals is 1) giving thanks and 2) reflecting on the sacrifices necessary for us to survive the coming winter months.
In modern times, the first harvest festival is Lammas or Lughnasadh. Contrary to what you’ve read on the internet, they are NOT the same festival.
Lammas is the English harvest festival which occurs on the same day. The word is Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” and was celebrated by Pagans and Christians alike. It celebrates the first fruits of corn, wheat and barley. The main food for this festival is bread in one form or another.
Lughnasadh is Gaelic for the modern Irish word “Lunasa,” meaning August. In ancient times the Sun God Lugh was honored.
Green Corn Festival is an annual ceremony practiced among various Native American peoples including the Cherokee. It is associated with the beginning of the yearly corn harvest. Historically, it involved a first fruits rite in which the community would sacrifice the first of the green corn to ensure the rest of the crop would be successful. The Green Corn Ceremony typically occurs in late July–August, determined locally by the ripening of the corn crops.
The second harvest festival is known in modern times as Mabon. In early times it was simply referred to as the Fall or Autumnal Equinox. It is the day when light and darkness are in balance with one another.
Mabon is a modern term coined by Aiden Kelly. It’s a reconstructed celebration that incorporates many of the old ways of celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.
Michaelmas was first celebrated in 1011. Named for the archangel Michael (protector), Sept 29, became a harvest festival and a time of taking stock, hiring help an settling debts. Around Michaelmas families decided which animals to keep through the winter and how many to sell or slaughter. Intended to replace Harvest Home, Michaelmas marked the point near the end of the reaping season and concluded with a dinner for landowners and tenants. These dinners gave landlords an opportunity to collect their seasonal rents.
Harvest Home is the English name for the harvest festival that occurred near the Fall Equinox throughout Europe. Some ancient Pagans also referred to this time as the Ingathering. Many of these traditions came from old Pagan fertility rituals; over time the ruling church dedicated the rituals to Christian saints instead of the original Pagan gods.
Other adaptations of the Harvest Festival are Oktoberfest in Germany and Rally Day in Southern Christian churches. You will see elements of the old celebrations reflected in each.
The Christian hymn known as “Harvest Home” or “Come, You Thankful People, Come” reflects the themes of the harvest in a way that may sound surprisingly Pagan! Here are the first two verses:
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home!
We ourselves are God’s own field, fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
The third harvest festival is Samhain, which also includes other elements such as divination and communication with the other side. Christians adapted this festival and transformed it into All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day.
Harvest Festival Symbols
Corn dollies—The word “corn” in Europe referred to all kinds of grain, not just the maize crops familiar to North America. Because of this, the term “corn dolly,” meant a figure fashioned form grain—usually wheat, but rye, millet, oats, and even maize also suited the purpose. There is evidence that this tradition does not originate in Europe, but came from ancient Egypt.
Cornucopia/Horn of Plenty—In classical antiquity, the cornucopia was a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts. he cornucopia became the attribute of several Greek and Roman deities, particularly those associated with the harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance. In modern times it is associated with Thanksgiving and harvest.