As the leaves fall and the nights chill in November, the tradition dating well back to the documented times of the 1600’s… and in some form or another well before, the harvest festival began as a celebration of the successful conclusion of the actual harvest of the crops. The many months of excruciating work, long days, sleepless nights, and, not to mention, hope and prayers, conclude with a celebration of family, friends, and those who helped with the growing season.
This cherished and highly anticipated celebration not only concluded the year’s countless hours of work and pain and centered around appreciating that work and those who did it by not only sharing the current bounty, but also was filled with preemptive hope, prayer, and planning that the following year’s yield would be as good and, with any luck, even a bit better.
The most famous of the adopted harvest festival gatherings for families far and wide in the United States is, you guessed it, Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving, albeit a huge family tradition, celebrated by millions, all filled with and centering around a bounty fit for royalty, does not offer the same vibe as the traditional harvest fest.
These celebrations take place normally in communities surrounding the actual farmlands, and they can be immense, lasting several days, filled with games, hayrides, competitions, and certainly eating and drinking. A lot of eating and drinking! From home-cooked meals to potluck buffets, from backyards with modern amenities to old barns with hay bale seating, if you have had the fortunate opportunity to partake in one of these celebrations, you won’t easily forget the experience.
Normally, starting very early in the day, prepare the center of the upcoming meal by starting the process that ranges from roasting a whole pig to smoking enough brisket to feed the community. This process is painstakingly supervised by the most experienced in the field to ensure nothing goes wrong and nothing is wasted. There is no chance of overcooked meat or entrees that would be talked about as average. The head cook position is well earned, very protected, and even more respected. Secret recipes consisting of unknown spices and processes are handed down generationally, and when it is time for the next in line to take the helm, that right of passage also comes with a huge celebration.
As the cooks are doing their duty, watching over the center of the main course, many others are preparing sides, desserts, and drinks. And when it comes to drinks, hopefully your experience includes a group of beer and cider brewers. There is nothing like a hot homebrewed cider on a chilly November night, especially after a feast that lasts for hours on end and seems to keep coming no matter how many folks are in attendance. The really amazing part is that I have witnessed people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels eat like nothing I could have ever imagined. It’s true; everyone just keeps going. The food seems endless. There are no breaks, no naps, no slacking. There are just plates being handed around, and the conversation always includes some format of “did you try…” or “have you seen…”, only to end with either boasting or the loss of who you were talking to that is now in a line getting what they have missed.
Once the main portion of the mealtime is over (remember, it’s never really over), it’s time for the table upon table of homemade desserts to seemingly appear out of every corner and doorway alike. Now there is no single choice permitted, but maybe, just maybe, you may get a friendly nod from a passing elder if there are multiple samples covering your plate. These times are for family, for kids running around, for couples both young and old alike on hayrides, for hours of playing horseshoes, for sack racing, and for kids of all ages playing egg toss, for ending a wonderful day of family and friends with songs, stories, and laughter sitting around a campfire crackling well into the morning hours. Amazingly enough, without anyone mentioning politics, the news, or problems in the economy, kids running safely in the dark playing hide and seek, couples actually holding hands, and people of all ages communicating without the use of text or email.
In my experience, that is what the Harvest Festival is all about, and no matter how, where, or to what level you experience it, it will form lasting memories in your soul that you’ll crave sharing the following year when the leaves begin to fall.