harvest customs

harvest customs,

practices associated with the celebration of the gathering of agricultural crops. The gathering of the harvest—the climax of the year's labors wherever the soil is cultivated—has been celebrated from ancient times, by both primitive and civilized people, with merrymaking or with the performance of symbolic rites of a religious or magical significance. The corn mother, symbolizing the spirit of the grain, was a common figure of harvest time. Usually made of the last or the best sheaf cut, her image was carried in triumph from the field, drenched with water to invoke rain for the next season. Other harvest customs, such as the baking of a loaf in the figure of a child, suggest ancient sacrificial rites of harvest time. An important feature of ancient Greek religion was the worship of Demeter, the grain goddess, her daughter Kore (Persephone), and the god Dionysus. The Romans adopted this worship, identifying the Greek deities with their own indigenous crop deities, Ceres (from whom the word cereal derives), Libera, and Liber. Pagan rites associated with the harvest continued into Christian times, and such religious festivals as Corpus Christi, All Saints, and the Festival of Lughnasa in Ireland retain traces of the ancient customs. The Jewish feasts of Shavuot and Sukkoth are harvest festivals. In the United States the harvest season is annually celebrated on Thanksgiving Day.
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(22) For Clare, popular culture, in Raymond Williams' words, "the culture actually made by people for themselves," builds community by creating a self-contained world in which antiauthoritarian and subversive social values are transmitted through the carnivalesque reversals of harvest customs and chapbook stories.
For example, John Brand, author of Observations on Popular Antiquities, and "the giant antiquary-folklorist of the late eighteenth century," comes close to apologizing for information on harvest customs he received "from an old woman at a village in Northumberland.--The reader may perhaps smile, but I am not ashamed of my evidence.
In his commentary on Bourne, Brand likewise searches for the origins of harvest customs, concluding that the custom in northern Britain of forming a "kern baby" (a figure made of corn) is an imitation of "Popery," which in turn imitates an ancient Roman custom; like Bourne, he cites authorities and uses Latin quotations to support his claims (306-7).
Many harvest customs date back to pre-Christian times and there will be a chance to see how folk have celebrated this season of plenty over the centuries.