Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harvest Time

Regency Harvest Traditions

While the Americans were celebrating the harvest during November in a tradition that would later evolve into Thanksgiving, our British cousins had even older harvest celebrations.

Harvest celebrations have been held since the dawn of man and in England have traditional been held during the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox—the harvest moon.

Traditions dating back to the 16th century indicated the harvest celebration was often started by reapers accompanying a cart laden with the final harvest. The extravagantly dressed leader shouted “Hooky, Hooky” and acted as the lord of the harvest while asking for money from the crowd. In addition, a special, seed cake was often distributed to celebrating farmworkers.

Most farmworkers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called the harvest supper. Cutting the last patch of corn or wheat in a field indicated the beginning of the feast. It was considered bad luck to be the person to cut the last stand of corn (“corn” was considered any grain, including wheat) so there was often a race against other harvesters on other farms to be the first to complete the harvest.

This idea of bad luck in cutting down the last stand of corn may have originated in the belief that a corn (grain) spirit hid in the last stand of grain to be harvested. To remain safe, harvesters wove some blades of the grain into a “corn dolly” to keep safe for luck until seeds were sown in the following ear. (A picture of a traditional corn dolly is shown on the right.) Then they plowed the ears of grain back into the soil to bless the new crop.

In Cornwall, the festival was further developed by “crying the neck” when the last sheaf of grain was cut. The reaper would cut the last handful, lift the bunch above his head and cry three times, “We have it!”

In response, the rest would shout three times, “What ‘ave ‘ee?” to which the reaper would reply three times, “A neck!” Finally, they would yell “Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck!” while calling the farmer by name.

This is obviously just a brief taste of some of the lovely traditions of our cousins “across the pond.” I find these small peeks into history and tradition irresistible. And while the lords and ladies so common in our historical novels were not directly involved in the harvest, they certainly would have had their own suppers and parties to celebrate the bounty of the season. These glimpses into the history behind our current traditions are very much part of why I love to research and write historical like “The Bricklayer’s Helper.” Our traditions and history illuminate not only how we are different, but how we are also the same.

Enjoy the autumn season and your very own harvest celebration!
Amy Corwin

1 comment:

Paty Jager said...

Fun post, Amy. I always enjoy learning how traditions started.