What Is A Harvest Festival?
Harvest (or Haerfest) is the Anglo-Saxon word for the season of autumn and wasn’t originally an agricultural term at all, but by the 1500s ‘harvest home’ came to mean the celebration that accompanied the gathering of the last autumn crops before winter began.
To begin with, Church harvest festivals were simply a communion service where the local farmers provided communion bread which was made from the new crop of grain. The local people joined together to thank God for the provision of food. Over the centuries, however, this early tradition all but died out.
Our modern-day harvest festivals date back to the mid-1800s when a Cornish vicar decided that the traditions of harvest needed to be revived. The idea caught on in a big way. The familiar elements of harvest – decorating the church with produce, distributing it to those in need and singing harvest hymns all have their origins in this Victorian revival.
Harvest Festivals in Schools
Happily the harvest festival tradition has never been more popular than it is today, and that’s thanks in no small part to the role that primary schools play and the enthusiasm children have for this special celebration. It has become the custom for food, both fresh and tinned, to be distributed to elderly or poorer members of the community. There may be more tins of baked beans and the unexpected jar of artichokes in evidence than loaves of bread, but the heart of the season is the same – gratitude that we have enough to eat, and plenty besides to share with others.
Our Favourite Harvest Festival Ideas For Schools:
The aim of your harvest celebration is to explain that the giving of food is about being thankful and also to help children understand that our actions of giving can influence others.
The three most important rules are:
- Keep it simple
- Make it participative
- Make it visual
Decorate the front of the hall or church in advance with flowers, corn, children’s paintings etc – discover our Top 5 Harvest Crafts For Primary Schools
for some ideas and inspiration.
- Welcome everyone and begin with a simple explanation of what a harvest festival is and what’s going to happen during the service or assembly.
- Whilst playing a popular harvest song for instance, All Things Bright And Beautiful from Out of the Ark ESSENTIALS Assembly Hymns, ask every child to bring an item of food to the front before sitting down and arrange the display (you may need some extra food items for children who haven’t brought anything).
- Lead everyone in a simple prayer of thanksgiving to God for all the blessings he provides and especially the daily food we eat. Perhaps encourage the children to think of a wide variety of things to be thankful for beforehand and incorporate some of their ideas into the prayer, or get children to write and read out their own prayers of gratitude. If you are short of time to prepare, here are some suggested prayers from the Church of England website here.
Sing a song of thanks for the harvest such as:
- Harvest Hymn (Give Thanks) from Songs for EVERY Occasion
- Everybody Praise Him from A Combined Harvest
- Harvest Festival from S!ng™ Harvest.
- For younger children: Thank You God For The Harvest from The Niki Davies Book of Songs For Autumn And Winter
- Read a harvest poem or a scripture passage about harvest, eg (Matthew 9:38) where Jesus says God is “the Lord of the harvest”.
- Explain that just as the farmer tends his crops and looks forward to a good harvest, so God looks after us and desires that we flourish in all sorts of ways. Explore what this might mean – being kind and thoughtful, being generous, helping others, doing ones best at home or school, etc.
- Explain about the distribution of food to those in need. Encourage the children to think about why it’s a privilege to give and perhaps explain about a local charity or food bank that helps people in this way. The Trussell Trust is a good place to find out more
- Finish with a prayer of blessing and another song of thanks such as Thank You Lord For The Harvest from Sing™ Harvest or for something a bit more upbeat For The Harvest also from Sing™ Harvest.
For more harvest festival ideas for schools including songs, crafts and learning, visit our Top Ways to Celebrate Harvest In Your Primary School blog which is packed full of inspiration, advice and creativity for a celebration they won’t forget.
Written by Jonathan Rogers – Out of the Ark Music Team and updated by Anna Edwards - Head of Sales.
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Out of the Ark Music has been providing schools across the country – and world – with wonderful primary school musicals and primary school songs for nearly 30 years. Our Christmas musicals and nativity plays make children sparkle and shine, year after year, as they proudly perform their school Christmas play. Our extensive collection of fun and joyous Easter songs, harvest songs, school assembly songs, leavers songs and even space songs, fill schools with laughter and give students and teachers alike, a reason to sing every day of the week. We’re glad you’re supporting us in our dreams of creating the best music for schools around the globe. Read more about us here.