8 of the Most Interesting Harvest Festivals Around the WorldArticle by: Andrew Goodwin
Mon November 21, 2016 | 00:00 AM
Harvest festivals are an ancient tradition found in almost every culture. They exist to celebrate the bountiful harvest that nature provides each year. Each country celebrates in its own way, but almost always, you’ll see family, friends, and neighbors gathering to give thanks as a community. These are eight of the most interesting harvest festivals around the world.
Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), Israel and Worldwide
Shortly following Yom Kippur, Sukkot—or the “Feast of Tabernacles”—is a Jewish holiday observed each year to remember the 40-year trek through the desert after the exodus from Egypt. “Sukkot” means “booths,” and families construct "sukkahs," or huts, made from bamboo, tree branches, and other natural materials to resemble the temporary shelters that their ancestors built during that arduous journey. These dwellings are often decorated with seasonal fruits and vegetables, photos, and personal items. Families gather and share meals for two days, giving thanks and reflecting on their ancestry.
Incwala Festival, Swaziland
Swaziland’s Incwala Festival celebrates what was once a common tradition among many African tribes: It’s an ancient ceremonial ritual with deep spiritual and cultural roots. The tribes of Swaziland have kept the tradition alive and running; for six days, locals gather to celebrate the fruits of the season, as well as their kinship. Each day, rituals involve song, dance, and praise. The main event happens on the fourth day, when the king and his men emerge in full war dress and paint, chanting and dancing. The festivities conclude when the king throws a sacred gourd to be caught by a younger man—a Swazi tradition that has lasted through many generations.
Makar Sankranti, India
One of the most joyous occasions for Hindus is Makar Sankranti, celebrated across many parts of India. It’s a celestial celebration that honors the sun god and gives thanks for a healthy harvest. Hundreds of thousands gather on the Ganges River to bathe and acknowledge the start of the new season. Indians make and fly beautifully decorated kites, symbolic of reaching up to thank the sun. Many folks decorate walls and floors with colorful patterns called rangoli. Friends and family gather at each other’s homes for a meals and celebrations.
Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Today, it’s celebrated on the fourth Thursday of each November. This harvest celebration has roots in English tradition, originating around the time of the Protestant Reformation. The most common images of Thanksgiving are of Plymouth plantation, where Pilgrim settlers and Native Americans shared in a massive feast of wild turkey and partridge while giving thanks and saying prayers. Today, friends and family gather, cook a turkey, and chow down on more food than is necessary. One of the most iconic Thanksgiving celebrations in America is in the historic town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Known as America's Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration, parades, concerts featuring period music and military songs, history lessons, harvest markets, and colonial crafters demonstrating trades take over the town to commemorate the journey the original pilgrims made to America.
Mid-Autumn Festival, China
An old Chinese poem says: “May we live long and share the beauty of the moon, even if we are hundreds of miles apart.” During this special occasion, Chinese families all over the country celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of China’s most important holidays. Dating back to the Tang dynasty, the festival pays tribute to the moon, whose circular shape symbolizes unity. Relatives hundreds of miles apart make the trek to join with loved ones and engage in celebrations, including dragon dances, lantern burning, and most importantly, eating moon cakes. These delicious pastries are traditionally made from egg yolks and filled with lotus seed paste but over the years, there have been a plethora of modern twists on the recipe. You’re sure to find them on the streets and in any shop across the country.
Lughnasadh (Lammas), Ireland
Lughnasadh (sometimes called Lammas) is a Gaelic term meaning “Commemoration of Lugh,” Lugh being the Celtic god of the sun. This festival’s roots stem to medieval times, when farmers and other country dwellers gave thanks for the harvest. Typically celebrated on August 1, it officially starts on the month’s first full moon, as the Celts celebrated it. Locals use potatoes to make poitín, an Irish whiskey that’s often referenced in folklore and known for its potency. Towns across Ireland celebrate Lughnasadh with tons of dancing, singing, drinking, and storytelling.
Mendoza Grape Harvest, Argentina
Photo by Argentina Travel
Argentina is known, among many things, for its delicious wines and beautiful vineyards. What started out as a celebration put on by individual wineries has grown into a prestigious national festival in Mendoza. It’s a spectacular, carnival-esque celebration that brings together all walks of Argentinian life to enjoy parades, fireworks, dances, costumes, and every other kind of festivity you can imagine, all paying reverence to the abundance of grapes. The highlight is the crowning of the Queen of Vendimia, which plays out in the Greek-style Frank Romero Day Amphitheater.
Madeira Flower Festival, Portugal
Held in Funchal, this Portuguese harvest festival is unique in that it happens in spring, when everything's in full bloom. Children, ornamented in an array of colorful flowers, flock to the central plaza to see the Wall of Hope being built–it’s a beautiful mural to which everyone in town contributes. After that is the Flower Parade, a collection of floats decked out in the region’s most exotic flowers. As the parade passes, their scent hits your nose like a potent perfume. Businesses decorate their shops, while artists gussy up the city, making for a bright, vivid spectacle.