Harvest Thanksgiving

Many schools and churches celebrate a Harvest Thanksgiving service around this time.

In current form this tradition was started by an eccentric Vicar in Cornwall, England in the 19th century, but its roots go back thousands of years. 

From the time that stone-age hunter-gatherers changed from a nomadic to an agrarian way of life and cultivated plants for food on a regular basis and domesticated animals, the beginnings and end of harvest seasons became hugely important - a cause for celebration and establishment of associated rituals.

When the ancient Hebrews began to settle in the rich and fertile land of Canaan they adapted their worship of God to the seasons of the farming year. In this new land God promised that they would enjoy:
"...a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, a of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper." (Deuteronomy 8: 7 - 9 NRSV)
In enjoying these gifts of plenty they were instructed not to forget God the giver. Special times of harvest celebrations were established at the beginnings and end of harvest to give thanks to God and be reminded how to live by God's ways. These (together with ancient pagan harvest celebrations) are the origins of Christian harvest festival services, once mostly celebrated in the UK on Lammas Day, 1 August at the beginning of harvest. Now, thanks to Robert Hawker of Morwenstow, Cornwall, now mostly at the end of September or beginning of October. 

Harvest Thanksgiving is a good tradition, reminding us:
  • to think about what we often take for granted – our daily food
  • to say thank you to God.
The word ‘thank’ and the word ‘think’ come from the same root. And this makes sense. In thanking someone we are thinking about the giver as well as the gift received. 

At one harvest festival service I gave each of the congregation an envelope containing the individual letters of the word HARVEST with the challenge in small groups to form as many words as possible that relate to harvest and to the Bible readings used that day. It is amazing how many words can be made using only some or all of those 7 letters. 3 in particular stand out for me:
  • HAVE. So many of us have so much and take it for granted. 
  • STARVE. While some of us waste food, many starve. 
  • SHARE. When we share what we have - that is a good harvest. 

Creator God,

you made the goodness of the land,

the riches of the sea

and the rhythm of the seasons;

as we thank you for the harvest

may we cherish and respect this planet and its peoples,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Common Worship. Additional Collects © Archbishops’ Council, 2000)


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