Traditional Ways to Thank God for Your Food: Harvest Festivals
Now that we no longer live off the land and can just go to a supermarket to find any food we want any time we want it, we forget how precious it is to have a good harvest, food to secure survival through the dark time of year.
Now that we no longer live off the land and can just go to a supermarket to find any food we want any time we want it, we forget how precious it is to have a good harvest, food to secure survival through the dark time of year. Abundant crops have always been humanity’s most coveted prize, the supreme signal of good fortune, so almost every society has devised a special ceremony to express gratitude for its autumn stockpile of nourishment. Our own American Thanksgiving, which features the harvest foods of New England, is in fact a blend of these religious traditions. It used to occur in October, the actual end of the growing season, but early in the 20th Century, pressure from retail merchants led Congress to move the date to the end of November to signal the start of the Christmas shopping season, which could be considered another form of harvest.
Sukkot, from the Hebrew word for "booths" or "huts", arose from the Exodus dictate to celebrate late summer’s fruit harvest, and eventually became a mandatory pilgrimage festival, set days people carried their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem to be offered by the High Priest as a sacrifice to God. Sukkot also fetes the Four Species or special ones. The etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), a palm branch, a myrtle branch and a willow branch are held high while the mantra "Hosha na!" (please save us!), is chanted in a procession around the pedestal from which Torah is read. Jews use Sukkot to commemorate the forty years the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters harvesting what they could. So for this holiday, a field hut or garden shelter of some sort is constructed of recently gathered stalks, stems, branches, vines, leaves, fruits and flowers. The Plymouth Pilgrims wanted a sacred way to express their thanks for a harvest that meant survival, and saw in the Bible the exhortation to build this harvest hut. So they did, launching our autumn tradition of decorating with cornstalks, pumpkins and dried flowers.
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