George Explores… Grain Festivals

Across the year, there are several special festivals to celebrate the farming year

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In the UK, even in the quite recent past, the agricultural year had special festivals in spring,
summer, autumn and winter which celebrated the different farming activities that needed to
take place at those times.
The following is a summary of some of the main festivals that marked the grain year in Britain. If
you know of any more, from Britain or abroad, please let us know.
Plough Monday – the first Monday after the 12th
night of Christmas. The blessing of the plough took
place in church for a good start to the new year. The
plough was then paraded through the streets of
neighbouring towns and the ploughmen danced and
asked for money for drink. It was believed that
hunger and starvation could befall those
who refused.
Candlemas – 2nd February.
There is an old belief that
all hibernating animals,
especially the badger,
wake upon
Candlemas Day
and come out to
see if it’s still
winter. If it’s
sunny, the
animals are
frightened of
their shadows
and go back
underground for
another 40 days. If
it’s cloudy, they have
no shadows and will
stay above ground. In
Scotland, on this day, the
farmer’s wife would dress a
sheaf of oats in women’s clothes
and put it in a large basket by the hearth.
They called this Bri’id’s bed and would say “Bri’id is
welcome.” If the figure moved in the night it
foretold a prosperous harvest and year ahead.
Shrove Tuesday – comes at the beginning of Lent.
You may know it better as ‘Pancake Day’. On this
day it is said that people “threshed the black hen”
but few can remember what this means.
St David’s Day – 1st March. People planted oats
and barley.
Mid-Lent Sunday – Now known as Mother’s Day.
Children would enact mock battles where winter was
defeated by spring.
May Day – 1st May (Beltane). Marked a
celebration of the beginning of summer
in Celtic lands. People would
dance around the May pole
which probably represents
fertility or the tree of life.
The May queen
represents the old
goddess of spring.
June. In Scotland,
there was a
procession
around the crops
in the field with
lighted torches.
Lammas – 1st
August. On this day
there was a blessing
of the bread and flour
and of the new season’s
grain crop. This was a
thanksgiving for the harvest
just beginning. The word Lammas
may come from the Saxon word ‘Hlafmas’
meaning half a loaf, referring to the way
that some farmers had to give some of their wheat
flour to their landlords before the 1st August.
The Saxons called August ‘Arnmonat’ – Harvest
Month. Starting with rye and oats, the crops were
harvested one after the other up until when the
barley was brought in during September, which was
called ‘Gerst-monat’ – Barley Month.

These happen in spring, summer, autumn and winter, and all celebrate different farming activities that need to take place at those times.

These are some of those that marked the Grain year in the UK:

Plough Monday

  • The first Monday after the 12th night of Christmas
  • The blessing of the plough took place in church for a good start to the new year.  The plough was then paraded through the streets of neighbouring towns and the ploughmen danced and asked for money for drink. It was believed that hunger and starvation could befall those who refused.

Candlemas

  • 2nd February
  • There is an old belief that all hibernating animals, especially the badger, wake upon Candlemas Day and come out to see if it’s still winter. If it’s sunny, the animals are frightened of their shadows and go back underground for another 40 days. If it’s cloudy, they have no shadows and will stay above ground.
  • In Scotland, on this day, the farmer’s wife would dress a sheaf of oats in women’s clothes and put it in a large basket by the hearth. They called this Bri’id’s bed and would say “Bri’id is welcome.” If the figure moved in the night it foretold a prosperous harvest and year ahead.

Shrove Tuesday

  • At the beginning of Lent
  • You may know it better as ‘Pancake Day’. On this day it is said that people “threshed the black hen” but few can remember what this means.

St David’s Day

  • 1st March
  • People planted oats and barley

Mid-Lent Sunday

  • Now known as Mother’s Day
  • Children would enact mock battles where winter was defeated by spring.

maypoleMay Day

  • 1st May
  • Marked a celebration of the beginning of summer in Celtic lands.
  • People would dance around the May pole which probably represents fertility or the tree of life.  The May queen represents the old goddess of spring.

Lammas

  • 1st August
  • On this day there was a blessing of the bread and flour and of the new season’s grain crop.
  • This was a thanksgiving for the harvest just beginning. The word Lammas may come from the Saxon word ‘Hlafmas’ meaning half a loaf, referring to the way that some farmers had to give some of their wheat flour to their landlords before the 1st August.
  • The Saxons called August ‘Arnmonat’ – Harvest Month. Starting with rye and oats, the crops were harvested one after the other up until when the barley was brought in during September, which was called ‘Gerst-monat’ – Barley Month.

Harvest Festivals

Around the world, harvest is a time for celebrating a successful crop.

harvestHarvest festivals in the UK usually fall in September to coincide with the grain or cereal crop harvest. In Saxon times, the first sheaf of corn was offered to the Gods to ensure a good harvest in the future. The last sheaf was said to contain the spirit of the harvest and would be brought from the fields by a specially decorated horse and cart.

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday in November commemorating the meal the Pilgrim Fathers shared with Native Americans to celebrate the first successful harvest after their arrival in America. A thanksgiving meal often reflects what was eaten in 1621: wild turkeys, squash, cornbread and berries.

Jewish people celebrate the harvest in September/October with an eight-day festival called Sukkoth. Huts similar to the ones that Moses and the Israelites lived in are built. Inside are fruits and vegetables and families eat their meals here for the first two days of the festival.

The Chinese celebrate Zhong Qiu Jie (mid-autumn festival) – the harvest moon. Traditional foods for this festival are red in colour and include lobster, salmon, red apples and pomegranate. Red is good luck in Chinese culture.

Diwali (festival of lights) is an Indian celebration followed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. It falls in October or November and is a celebration of both the New Year and the harvest. Oil lamps, called diwas, are lit and placed around the open doors and windows of houses so that Goddess Laskhmi knows where to give good fortune and wealth.

New Years

Around the world, the arrival of new year is celebrated in different ways.

Hogmanay

  • In Scotland Hogmanay parties end in a countdown to midnight and the song, Auld Lang Syne.
  • A warm welcome for friends, family and strangers alike is important and, of course, a kiss at the stroke of midnight.
  • ‘First Footing’ is an ancient tradition which is still carried out today.  To ensure good luck, the first person of the New Year to enter your house must be a dark man carrying a lump of coal, a black bun, shortbread, salt and malt whisky.

Chinese New Year

  • Rather than 31st December, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in late January or early February
  • On New Year’s Eve, houses are brightly lit and doors and windows are sealed to keep in good luck.
  • People take a long bath because washing on New Year’s Day is thought to wash away good fortune.  Fireworks and firecrackers scare away evil spirits.
  • On New Year’s Day, Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. Married couples give children money in red envelopes. Doors are decorated with ‘red couplets’,Chinese sayings written on red paper, often with gold trimmings, asking for luck, long life and wealth.

Rosh Hashanah

  • September or October
  • The Jewish New Year festival celebrates the creation of the world
  • A judgement day where Jews believe that God looks at each person’s actions and behaviour, both good and bad, over the past year and decides what kind of year is in store for them.
  • Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashanah at home as well as in the Synagogue. With the emphasis on sweetness, traditional foods are apples dipped in honey, a sweet carrot stew called tzimmes and a round Hallah bread (instead of the plaited loaf eaten on the Sabbath) to symbolise the circle of life

Diwali

  • October or November
  • An Indian celebration followed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
  • Celebrates both the New Year and the harvest, also known as the festival of lights.
  • Diwali comes from the Sanskrit ‘dipavali’ meaning ‘row of little lights’.  Light is a big feature. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, needs light to guide her to people’s homes to give good fortune and wealth. Oil lamps, called diwas, are lit and placed around the open doors and windows of houses.
  • Fireworks are also a big part of the celebrations.

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