Agriculture was the single most important innovation in the transition of early human societies from nomadic hunter-gatherers to advanced civilizations. In its early stages, the harvest meant everything to a human tribe – the difference between starvation and prosperity. A successful harvest was a cause for great celebration. In places where agriculture is still close to home, these timeless traditions have lived on. The following are a small handful of harvest festivals with deep-rooted and fascinating cultural tradition.
Rice Harvest – Bali
Rice is a major food staple throughout Southeast Asia, and Indonesia is no exception. Given the importance of the crop, the harvest is a big deal. The rice harvest in Bali begins in early summer with vibrant displays of the island’s Hindu culture. Effigies of Dewi Sri, the Goddess of rice and fertility, are placed in the rice fields as offerings of gratitude, and the town shines with bright, colored flags, lanterns and shrines. In addition to the traditional cuisines made to celebrate the holiday and the lively decorations, the locals look forward to “Makepung” in which decorated water buffalo pull chariots for the annual race.
Mid-Autumn Festival – China & Vietnam
The Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated across China, Vietnam, and a handful of Southeast Asian countries under a variety of different names, including the Harvest Moon Festival, the Lantern Festival, and the Reunion Festival. The tradition dates back to the Shang dynasty of 1600-1046 BC and is tied to the significance of the moon in ancient Chinese mysticism. According to ancient fables, the sun and moon are lovers and the stars their children. When the moon becomes pregnant, she appears round in the sky before giving birth and returning to a crescent shape. The modern celebrations involve lanterns, “moon cake” pastries, and celebrations surrounding marriage and courtship.
Yam Festival – Ghana
Yams are a major crop in Ghana, and the festivals commemorating their harvest reflect as much. In fact, rather than one yam festival, there are several different ones celebrated by the various tribes of Ghana. The Asgoli and Ashanti celebrate in September, whereas the Igbo celebrate earlier in August at the end of the rainy season. What the tribes have in common are deep traditions surrounding the harvest tied to gratitude, spirituality and the history of their people. The specifics of the celebrations vary by tribe, but they usually involve passage of rites by elders, and all of the yam festivals involve song and dance. The Igbo discard all the yams from previous crops to start the year anew, the Ashanti make offerings of Yam to the ancestral gods, and the Asgoli decorate shrines with cooked yams not to be consumed.
Madeira Flower Festival – Portugal
The flower festival in Madeira, Portugal, isn’t a harvest festival in the tradition of edible crops but, rather, a broader celebration of the fertility of spring. However, flowers are so abundant here that they do present as an important crop of sorts, and the festival is too beautiful to exclude from the list. The climate of the region makes it hospitable to countless species of native flowers. During the festival, floral carpets are spread down streets in arrangements of roses, carnations, birds of paradise, proteas and countless other species. Each of the town’s children brings a bloom to decorate Muro da Esperança (Wall of Hope), and the locals sing, dance and celebrate the coming of Spring in this list’s most fragrant and colorful festival.
The Song of Seasons
From the moon cakes of China to the streets of Madeira bursting with flowers, the harvest remains an occasion of joy and fertility across countless cultures in the modern world. At its core, the harvest is a celebration of life, both that which sprouts from the ground and that which we carry in our chests, and mankind has found no shortage in ways to celebrate life.