5 Harvest Rituals around the World

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Harvest festivals date back to ancient times. These rituals and festivals involve showing thanks to the gods for a successful crop growing season. How this is done and what season they take place depends on what part of the world you live in. There are different harvest rites and rituals in virtually every corner of the globe. Historically, not only were they a way to give thanks, but there was also a lot of superstition involved. Pleasing the gods was of the utmost importance. An angry god might not bring enough rain or bear enough fruit to keep a village or nation fed. A pleased god would shower the crops with rain and sunshine, guaranteeing a plentiful harvest. Here are five harvest festivals from around the world.


5: Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa may not be thought of as a harvest ritual, but it is based on many of the harvest rituals of Africa. It was established in 1966 by social activist Dr. Maulana "Ron" Karenga, during the height of the civil rights movement in the United States [source: marshalleducation.org]. Even the name makes reference to the harvest -- Kwanzaa is Swahili for "first fruits." Kwanzaa begins on Dec. 26 and lasts for seven days. There are seven principles that are celebrated every year, each focusing on building and strengthening the African-American community. Each day, a different principal is recognized and honored through various customs and rituals that reflect the African heritage.


4: Paiwan Rice Harvest Ritual

In Taiwan, gathering rice is a large part of their harvest ritual.
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The largest tribal group in the country of Taiwan is the Paiwan, an aboriginal tribe. They make up close to 20 percent of the population of Taiwan, and like most Asian cultures, they depend on the rice harvest as a means of sustenance and income. The Paiwan have harvest rituals based around both rice and millet crops. Each year, there's a ceremony led by an official that includes tribal members placing harvested millet grains in a granary for the gods. They also select the best millet grains for seeding the upcoming crop. The Paiwan also pay tribute to the gods by eating millet from the current season.


3: Harvest Home

England is home to the Harvest Home, a harvest festival that takes place in the fall after the crops are finished. After the last crop of the season, the townspeople decorate the final load with flowers and ribbon and sing the Harvest Home song. Now, fruits and vegetables are offered as a show of thanks and placed on altars. Churches also decorate their halls with autumn plants and crop remnants as an expression of thanks. The tenets of Harvest Home involve giving tribute, in equal parts, to paying thanks and remembering the less fortunate. For instance, in church services, food is brought as a donation to be dispersed to the needy, after hymns and prayers are given during a ceremony. The end of the day typically involves a meal, music and dancing.


2: Jewish Sukkot

Members of the Jewish community in Jerusalem gather palm branches in preparation for the Sukkot festival.
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The Jewish fall harvest festival begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It's a radical shift for the Jewish people, going from a solemn and reverential holiday to such a celebratory one. Sukkot is the last of the three pilgrimage festivals, after Passover and Shavu'ot. According to the Bible, the children of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years. Sukkot pays tribute to them, along with celebrating the yearly harvest with the Festival of Ingathering. During Sukkot, the Jewish people are commanded to dwell in a temporary shelter, called a sukkah, in honor of the children of Israel. There are very specific rules that dictate how a sukkah is constructed. As for what "dwell" means, it can be as simple as dining in the shelter, though they're encouraged to spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, including sleeping there if weather permits.


1: Thanksgiving

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday is marked by stuffing their faces with turkey with gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie for desert. Throw in a short nap in the recliner and a couple of NFL football games, and the day is complete. But the roots of Thanksgiving are traced back to the arrival of the Puritan Pilgrims in the New World. The Pilgrims weren't familiar with the agricultural tricks of the trade in their new homeland. Thanks to a Native American man named Squanto, the Pilgrims learned to farm and hunt on their new land, as well as what dangerous plants to avoid. Governor William Bradford called for a celebratory feast after the Pilgrims found that they not only could survive, but they could thrive. For three days, the Pilgrims and their Native American friends gave thanks with meals and celebration. Though we've adopted some new rituals along the way, the same spirit of Thanksgiving is still alive today.


Lots More Information

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  • Ashera. "Lore and Magick of the Harvest." widdershins.org, 2009. http://www.widdershins.org/vol1iss4/m04.htm
  • "English Harvest Festival." harvestfestivals.net, 2009. http://www.harvestfestivals.net/englishfestivals.htm
  • Klein, Allison. "History of Thanksgiving." howstuffworks.com, 2009. https://people.howstuffworks.com/thanksgiving2.htm
  • "Kwanzaa." marshalleducation.org, 2009. http://www.marshalladulteducation.org/rs/hc/l7hc/Kwanzaa_Level_7.0.pdf
  • "Paiwan Harvest Rituals." edu.ocac.gov, 2009. http://edu.ocac.gov.tw/local/tour_aboriginal/english/b/01b.htm
  • "Sukkot." jewfaq.org, 2009.http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm
  • "Sukkot." jewishvirtuallibrary.org, 2009. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/holiday5.html