Hurrah for yields!

festivities

Hurrah for yields!

Imagine the caveman — broad in the beam; wrapped in animal skin; his hair matted, his dinner plate full of meat. No grains, no vegetables, no fruits. Nothing called a granary. Because the caveman had not yet learnt to sow and reap. He knew not the joys of a bountiful harvest. Mercifully, the hunter caveman grew up into a farmer, learnt to sow, reap and have a knees-up at the harvest festival.

The word ‘harvest’ stems from the Old English word ‘hærfest’, meaning ‘autumn’. Soon, it came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other crops from the land. In the beginning, harvest festival was a pagan celebration by those who had enough food and spare time to make merry when the full moon — the harvest moon — was nearest to the time of autumnal equinox. There was no method to the harvest festival. When there was harvest, there was celebration.

Today, there are as many harvest festivals as there are nations and regions. Few with weird names, few with weirder rituals. There’s Samhain, celebrated by Wiccans and pagans recognising the cycle of life, death and renewal. Choosuk is a Korean harvest festival where moon cakes are the fave dish, and men wrestle and women sing. Yams — and the traditional dish fufu — hold centrestage in Africa at the Yam Festival.

Niiname-sai (celebrations of first taste) is a Shinto rice festival in Japan, while Mehregan, a Persian festival, is dedicated to Mithra, the goddess of light, friendship, faith, love and kindness. In the icy Tundra of Northern Russia, men of Koriak, Itel’men and Sunda tribes trek 43 miles to the top of Mt Evel as part of the harvest ritual, to leave a wooden carving for the ancestors. On the final Sunday of February, the Archbishop of Mendoza sprinkles the season’s first grapes with holy water and offers the new vintage to god, setting off a month of celebrations in Argentina’s Mendoza region.

India

There surely is no one way to thank the lord for a bountiful harvest. In some parts of India, wheat is harvested in the early months of the year, and the festival acquires various names — Lohri (North India), Bhogali Bihu (Assam), Sankranti (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Baisakhi (Punjab), Nuakhai (Orissa), Gudi Padwa (Goa, Maharastra). In South India, Onam and Pongal are the two most important harvest festivals. Pongal is a four-day festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu. Taking its name from the Tamil word meaning ‘to boil’, Pongal is held in mid-January, the time when rice and other cereals, sugarcane and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested. Celebrated in Kerala, Onam is held at the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first on the Malayalam calendar, and marks the return of King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.

Africa

 If hooting at hunger can be turned into a festival, the Africans know how best to do it. For eons, Africans have been celebrating the harvest. Yam often was the first crop to be harvested at the end of rainy season. Even today, yam is first offered to the gods and ancestors, followed by the ritual masked-dances where good ghost that protects the crop is defeated by the evil ghost that wants to destroy the crops. Homowo is a traditional harvest festival celebrated by the Ga people of Ghana, West Africa. The largest cultural festival of its kind, it’s also known as ‘Hooting at Hunger’. In Swaziland, men journey to the sea in late December to gather water so that Incwala, a harvest festival, can begin. Only when the king eats the first fruit can the people partake of the harvest.

Asia

 Tinagba is a harvest festival held in the Philippines that coincides with the Catholic Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In Cambodia, the Festival of Water and Full Moon Salutation is related to farming; the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in Cambodia to mark the beginning of the rice-growing season.

Bali has a Rice Harvest Festival in which bamboo temples dedicated to Dewi Sri (the rice goddess) are put up in the most sacred corners of the rice fields. Htamane Pwe is the harvest festival celebrated in Myanmar in which locals mix rice, peanuts, coconuts, ginger and sesame to prepare a glutinous dish. The first batch of the dish is offered to the Buddha in gratitude for a good harvest.

Europe

In the United Kingdom, Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest season. In ancient times, bread was baked from the new crop to leave on church altars, and corn dolls were made as decorations for the feast tables. In 1843, in Britain, Reverend Robert Hawker of Cornwall started the trend of holding a service, offering communion bread made from the first cut of corn. In Italy, Olivegando is a two-day festival held in November, celebrating both the feast day of St Clement and the local olive harvest. Historically from Iceland, Freyfaxi (August 1) marks the beginning of the harvest in Norse Paganism, while Szüreti Fesztivál or Szüreti Napok (harvest festival or harvest days) is celebrated in various rural towns of Hungary.

The United States of America

Thanksgiving, held on the fourth Thursday of November, originated in the fall of 1621, when Plymouth colonists celebrated their successful wheat crop and overflowing store cupboards with the Wampanoag Indians. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny. An old sage sowed this life hack. But when it is harvest time, no one thinks of character and destiny. It’s only about the bounty of the land. And a good knees-up.

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