harvest customs, practices associated with the celebration of the gathering of agricultural crops. The gathering of the harvest—the climax of the year's labors wherever the soil is cultivated—has been celebrated from ancient times, by both primitive and civilized people, with merrymaking or with the performance of symbolic rites of a religious or magical significance. The corn mother, symbolizing the spirit of the grain, was a common figure of harvest time. Usually made of the last or the best sheaf cut, her image was carried in triumph from the field, drenched with water to invoke rain for the next season. Other harvest customs, such as the baking of a loaf in the figure of a child, suggest ancient sacrificial rites of harvest time. An important feature of ancient Greek religion was the worship of Demeter, the grain goddess, her daughter Kore (Persephone), and the god Dionysus. The Romans adopted this worship, identifying the Greek deities with their own indigenous crop deities, Ceres (from whom the word cereal derives), Libera, and Liber. Pagan rites associated with the harvest continued into Christian times, and such religious festivals as Corpus Christi, All Saints, and the Festival of Lughnasa in Ireland retain traces of the ancient customs. The Jewish feasts of Shavuot and Sukkoth are harvest festivals. In the United States the harvest season is annually celebrated on Thanksgiving Day.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.