This past weekend, coinciding with the year's autumnal equinox, Chapel Hills Farm and Nursery and the Perry Hall Improvement Association held the first annual Perry Hall Apple Festival. This event featured a variety of food, music and other entertainment, games, and of course great seasonal fruits and vegetables. My family and I were thrilled to once again have a home-grown community gathering to attend. What was especially nice was to have an event to go to when the weather was nice, and more temperate than summer activities we have gone to in the past.
Interestingly enough, there is a long tradition of various cultures holding gatherings to celebrate the beginning of fall and the arrival of harvest-time. I can recall going to numerous harvest or fall festivals over the course of my youth, which might explain my ongoing fondness for apple cider, along with the occasional hayride.
Looking to the past, the harvest tradition that most closely resembles local events like the Perry Hall Apple Festival and the Johnny Appleseed Birthday Celebration (also held this past weekend at Weber's Cider Mill Farm in nearby Parkville), would be the harvest festivals that occur in Great Britain. Records indicate that successful harvests have been marked by celebration throughout the English Isles since pagan times.
Like our apple festival, such festivals in England are traditionally held on the Sunday closest to when the Harvest Moon is expected to occur. This is the full moon that occurs closest to the date of the autumn equinox, as took place this past weekend. Celebrations associated with this event typically include the singing of hymns, praying, and the decoration of churches with baskets of fruit and food.
The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in the 1840's. Until the mid-20th century most farmers culminated their celebration of the end of the harvest with a big meal called the harvest supper. All of the local townspeople who had been part of the harvest work itself were welcome to attend such dinners. Many churches and villages throughout Great Britain still have a Harvest Supper to commemorate the beginning of fall.
There are, of course, other harvest festivals in other areas of the world. In many of the countries of the far east—including Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan—locals enjoy mid-autumn festivals, known generally as Moon Festivals. The first known historical record of these types of gatherings dates to about 3,000 years ago, during China's Zhou Dynasty. Over time, China's Zhongqiu Festival spread throughout Asia, becoming Tsukimi in Japan, Tết Trung Thu in Vietnam, and Chuseok in Korea.
Regardless of what such harvest festivals are called, the common denominator between them all is the fact that folks come together to take pride in the bounty of the land that they have worked. While fewer Americans are directly connected to farming now than in the past, it's important for all of us to remember that the hard work of these people provide food and sustenance for us all.