By MARGARET BROWN
IN ANCIENT times, the Harvest Festival was celebrated at the beginning of harvest, when farmers’ wives baked loaves from freshly ground new grain. This bread was used in Church during the Eucharist – a celebration of Christ’s sacrifice and thanksgiving to God for his goodness.
After Henry VIII rejected the Catholic Church, the celebration came at the end of September, as near the Full Moon as possible. Afterwards, crops were safely brought to the barns in time for Michaelmas Day.
It was the Reverend Robert Hawker of Morwenstow, Cornwall who, in autumn AD 1843, revived this old tradition, having invited all the villagers to come to Church and give thanks. The Church was decked out with fruit, vegetables, bread and corn dollies. The custom spread, lasting through the two World Wars.
For a Christian, it was one of the bright spots in an increasingly threatened way of life. Parishioners laid their offerings upon the steps of the altar to be blessed and then distributed them among the poor in the surrounding area.
Today, things are rather different, food being cheaper to import than to grow, agriculture having been sidelined by successive governments and the good earth under concrete or tarmacadam.
However, we continue to remember the poor and needy in a 21st century manner. Tinned food, packaged rice and pulses, oil and preserved meats all acceptable, hygienic and clean to handle. We sing the same glorious hymns and celebrate the bounty of God, “who sends the rain in season” to bring forth food from the scattered seeds.
You win some you lose some: in my prayers I ask that those skills learned through the centuries shall not be lost, but cherished, for we shall need them one day in the future.