Country towns large and small, all over Australia, celebrate nature’s bounty and skilful husbandry as summer draws to a close, continuing an ancient tradition which connects societies around the globe. Gardeners young and old exhibit home grown produce, flowers, arts, crafts and cooking, hoping to win a blue ribbon.
People throng and linger around long trestle tables comparing the exhibits and congratulating the winners of the many categories. The 2019 Rylstone Show, held a few weeks ago, was bursting with all the good things mother nature and diligent gardeners have to offer in our region.
Harvest festivals stretch back millennia, when hunger was a constant threat and societies felt at the mercy of the gods. Some early agrarian societies believed that cultivated crops contained spirits which caused them to grow. It was seen as vital that the crops were harvested, or the spirits would languish in the plants, and eventually wreak revenge against the farmers. Harvest and ritual celebrated the release or defeat of these spirits.
The word ‘harvest’ originates from the Old English word meaning ‘Autumn’, eventually coming to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products from the land.
Late summer was historically a time of limited food supply and often famine. Harvest was a time of celebration and festivals, heralding the end of seasonal famine and ushering in a time of plenty.
In pagan times, Harvest festivals were traditionally held at the beginning of autumn or a little later, close to the full moon around the Autumn Equinox, known as the Harvest Moon.
A successful harvest was of major importance, dictating the stability and health of a community. Harvest celebrations were a time of feasting and paying tribute to gods for bounty, prosperity and good health.
As Christian influence grew, celebrations took place in churches on the Sunday nearest to the autumn equinox (22 or 23 September in the northern hemisphere, 21 or 22 March in the southern hemisphere).
I write this post at 7.30pm on the Autumn Equinox in central western New South Wales, Australia. Soon I hope to see the rising Harvest Moon, although the recent very welcome rain has left a cloudy sky. A few days from now I will pull up my waning crops of beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and chillies, to make way for winter vegetables. I’m glad I don’t have to rely on my own efforts to feed myself, but I would not be without the connection with the earth, and with humanity stretching back through the mists of time, that comes with growing my vegetables and flowers, with the life of the gardener.