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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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What happens during a harvest festival?
Harvest festivals have been celebrated since ancient times and although they are not part of the traditional church year, many churches now celebrate the harvest at some point in the autumn.
One tradition teaches that the Harvest Festival used to be celebrated on 1st August and was called Lammas, meaning ‘loaf Mass’. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church where they were then used as the Communion bread during a special thanksgiving service. This custom seems to have ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church.
On 1st October 1843, Rev. Robert Hawker held the first Harvest Thanksgiving Service in his Anglican church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. He wanted people to say ‘thank-you’ to God for the harvest – this has remained a tradition ever since.
Although it isn’t an exclusively Christian festival, the tradition of giving at harvest-time is found in the Bible. The Jews would give a tenth of the harvest to God. This was known as a tithe. (Leviticus 27: 30). In this country, farmers used to give a tithe of everything that came from the ground. Tithes were payments in kind (crops, wool, milk etc.) which were an agreed proportion of the yearly profits of cultivation or farming. Tithes were often given to help support the parish church and its clergy. Grain was stored in huge tithe barns, many of which can still be seen today.
Although this law no longer exists many Christians still choose to give some of their income, a tithe, to help with the work of the church.
Today, most UK churches have a Harvest Thanksgiving service. The church building may be decorated with a display of flowers and food, perhaps including a large loaf in the shape of a wheatsheaf. Often people bring more gifts of food to add to the display during the church service.
Afterward, the food will be sold to raise money for charity or given directly to those in need. At harvest time, the sharing of food helps Christians to remember that all good gifts come from God. Giving is a way of saying thank you to God in a practical way whilst remembering that He commanded all people to love and care for others.