This time of year always make me remember Harvest Festival from my school days. It was a time of year that everyone was excited about and one I remember vividly from being a child.
The actual tradition of Harvest Festival is a big celebration around the time of the harvest in any given area. This usually involves decorations, singing, dancing, prayers and suchlike.
At school, Harvest Festival meant a few things. Firstly, we would be asked to bring in food from home, mainly tins and packet food. I remember clearly my parents forgetting about Harvest Festival until the day of it and then looking all the way to the back of the cupboards for anything that we were unlikely to eat and that hadn’t gone past it’s use by date. This was normally a couple of tins of soup or something else that had been gathering dust for the last few months. We then had to take the food into school and during assembly we’d all file past a big table, leaving the food items on it.
I always found this time hugely embarrassing. There was me with my two dusty tins of oxtail soup and the other children all seemed to have things that had been bought especially for the occasion. I remember some children bringing in shop bought hampers of food, gift packs of food that you’d be happy to receive at Christmas, big baskets of fruit covered in cellophane and brightly coloured tissue paper. One child’s parents worked for Fortnum & Mason and they brought in a massive wicker trunk full to the brim with expensive wine, chutney and cheese. This was one time every school year that my less than affluent upbringing was very apparent. I filed past that table of donations as quickly as possible, with my red face burning and putting the tins down swiftly so no-one would see my meagre offering.
We would then take our places on the wooden benches while stories were read and songs were sung. I relaxed again during this part. It was a part I loved, singing along using words that were moved up by hand on an overhead projector.
The food would then stay on that long table for a few days, surrounded by Harvest decorations, paper leaves and pumpkins. After those few days we all filed back into the assembly hall to be given a carrier bag each and a number. We were then led into blocks of flats in the local community and told to knock on the door that our number corresponded to and give the occupant that plastic bag of food.
Looking back now, these blocks of flats were retirement apartments. Council owned and filled with incredibly poor elderly people. Us children would knock on their door , shove a carrier bag at them and leave as quickly as possible. As a child it wasn’t a very nice experience, the council flats were run down and the communal areas weren’t maintained let alone cleaned. The whole block would smell damp and musty. The minute we walked through the door to the block we would want to turn back around again. But we were forced to knock on a strange person’s door – something we’d been told never to do from a young age, and give an even stranger elderly person a bag of food. Such an odd thing to be tasked with as a child. But now I realise that the old people in those flats didn’t have any money and a lot of them didn’t have any family. That bag of food was probably the nicest thing to happen to them over that Harvest period and it probably gave them a meal that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
I have no idea whether Harvest Festival still happens but Hubby and I both had similar memories of dusty tins and old people. It’s sad that those parts of the tradition stuck in our memories more than the singing and celebration.
Did you celebrate Harvest Festival? Do you still celebrate it now? I’d love to hear your experiences and memories of it.