Harvest Festival and Thanksgiving
It's almost Thanksgiving here in the States, our first Thanksgiving here was in November 2003, the year we moved from England. It was a new celebration for us, one that we quickly embraced. We experienced the kindness of strangers when we were invited to an amazing meal cooked by a group of friends. I don't remember the location, we all met at a small building seemingly in the middle of nowhere with a well equipped kitchen. The tables had already been set in the festive fall colors we now decorate with ourselves, the smell of roasting turkey filling the room. There were about twenty of us, some incredibly friendly New Englanders who welcomed us into their midst. Having recently moved over three thousand miles I was so grateful for our family, especially our young boys to experience this grace when everything was so foreign to us. Yes Americans speak the same language and yet there are so many ways of speaking and being that were so different. Every Thanksgiving I look back on those few hours with gratitude for that generous welcome.
Although we don't have Thanksgiving in England as a child I remember Harvest Festival time. Following tradition it was a time to celebrate the abundant harvest. We lived in a big farming community, although this tradition was celebrated throughout the country at that time. At school we would take in not just non perishable foods but fruit and vegetables from our gardens. Many families grew their own vegetables even if they only owned a small garden. There were also vegetable plots families could rent for a low fee to have the opportunity to produce fresh food. I am sure this dated back to the war time and the plentiful Victory Gardens that were encouraged both in Britain and the USA during that awful time where there was a shortage of everything we now take for granted.
I attended a Church of England school, every morning we would file by class into the school hall for assembly. The tradition in the USA is to say the Pledge of Allegiance, for us we would start with prayer then join in the singing of several hymns, our headmaster would give a reading and any school news that was important for that day, then we would file out back to our lessons. Some of the hymns I really loved, there is something about a large body of people joining together in song that is very powerful. We did have a teacher in assembly at the end of most lines of children looking out with eagle eyes for any misbehavior, for which there was the terrible punishment of having to stand in a crowd of a hall full of seated children for the often boring reading. Bearing the shame and humiliation of standing alone must have been awful, fortunately I managed to avoid this experience.
I always enjoyed the Harvest celebration service we had each year. Families were encouraged to be generous as all the food brought into schools or churches would be donated to people less fortunate and to care homes for the elderly. This was one of the church services I actually loved attending. For a few years we went every Sunday dressed in our best clothing. I wore my beautiful shiny black patent shoes and was very proud of them.
I was always amazed at the beautiful colors and abundance of all the produce that was laid out filling the steps below the alter of our small village church. After a shorter than unusual service all the produce would be blessed by the vicar. The younger children would be allowed to go to the front to look at the bounty, kneel down and also be "blessed" before moving silently back to our seats. The church it'self was beautiful inside and out, amazing carvings and stained glass windows that reflected the light on a sunny day. I remember the sense of reverence and awe I felt walking in there. On the way out each week we would wait in line to be greeted by the vicar, our parents shaking his hand and exchanging a few words as we moved slowly past. On the walk back home there was relief in being able to run freely again, shouting and playing as my brothers and I ran along the tree lined path stooping to pick up acorn, conkers and unusual leaves and sticks on the way, glad to be free of the restraints of "best behavior"
As I grew older church was not so appealing, I was bored and resented the time away from home, doing what I wanted to do. I once complained on our walk there one Sunday whining "why do we have to go?" I received a sharp resounding slap around the head which left my ears ringing as my mother hissed at me "you should be grateful you are able to go you selfish girl, it wouldn't hurt you to be grateful for once". Thus began my fear of speaking out and my dislike of the now boring and to me irrelevant forced church attendance. It's strange the things I can remember so clearly. I am sure at that age there were few children that actually wanted to be there and if they were honest probably few adults too. My dad I am sure would have rather been at home tending his garden or on the sofa reading the Sunday newspaper. Even my mum who insisted we went probably did so out of a sense of what she felt was expected of her. So that we could be seen as a "good" family which they did their best to be, appearances mattered a great deal, much more so than today depending on the circles you move in.
What do you remember about harvest time or Thanksgiving from your childhood? What stood out to you? Were there traditions that you loved or hated? What was your favorite memory?