Unlike the United States and Canada, there is no set date in Britain for this celebration but harvest festivals are usually held in either the second half of September or during the first week of October.
Story to read to pupils
"What do you say?" "Did you say 'thank you'?" When young, almost every one of us will have heard such reminders after we have been given a present. In the same way, harvest festivals remind believers to thank God for "the fruits of the earth in due season" - that is, for the way, each year, the earth provides us with what we need to eat.
Harvest is one of the world's oldest festivals and was celebrated by the Ancient Greeks who gave thanks to Demeter the goddess of agriculture and by the Romans who called her Ceres. Although a "good" harvest (meaning there will be plenty of food for the coming winter) has always been important, it is only for the last 160 years that the Christian Church has celebrated the completion of the harvest.
Morwenstow is a village on the north coast of Cornwall. In 1843, its vicar was the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker who was, incidentally, also a poet and enthusiastic opium user. That September, he announced, "God has been very merciful to us this year. He hath filled our garners with increase, and satisfied our poor with bread ... Let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving." Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with produce. Nowadays, people bring gifts to church or school festivals and later these are distributed to the elderly and needy.
There is a vivid description of a traditional harvest festival in the final chapter of Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie. Besides arranging displays of produce, students could create montages which illustrate the theme of harvest. The website of Woodlands Junior School, Tonbridge, has an excellent page: www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.ukcustomsHarvest.html
For information about harvest festivals in Britain: www.crewsnest.vispa.comthanksgivingUK.htm
and for celebrations around the world: www.holidays.netthanksgivingstory Assembly resources, page 20