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British Harvest Festival

The timing of Harvest festival varies according to weather conditions and location. But festivals are held all over Britain at the end of the summer to celebrate the bringing-in of the crops, usually during September.

In Britain, the time for the harvest festival starts when the wheat has been cut and the apples have been picked. Decoration of churches takes place and the churches are decorated with flowers during the harvest time. Fruits, Vegetables, and a loaf of bread in the middle are also used to decorate the churches. Peoples have a belief that bringing a plough into the church for blessing will result into a plentiful harvesting during the next year.

In Britain, the harvest festival is attached to the gathering of the last sheaf of corn. The reapers raise a great ‘Harvest Shout’ as it was cut. The last sheaf was treated with special respect and used to make ‘Corn Dollies’. This was done as people believed that the corn spirit lived in the wheat .The Corn Dolly was then placed on the top of the final load of corn and carried back into the village in triumph. By creating the dolly, the spirit is kept alive for the next year and for the new crop. Sometimes, the dollies are hung up in the farmhouse or in the church or in the barn. The dolly would be ploughed back into the soil during the spring season.

Another story about a Corn Dolly is in the folksong 'John Barleycorn':

“There were three men come from the West
their fortunes for to try,
and these three made a solemn vow:
"John Barleycorn must die."
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
'Till these three men were satisfied
John Barleycorn was dead.”

However in the spring John Barleycorn rises up through the soil. By and by he grows big and strong, even growing a beard. Consequently the three men cut him down at the knee, tie him to a cart, beat him, strip the flesh off his bones and grind him between two stones. Nevertheless, in the end it is John Barleycorn who defeats his opponents. He proves the stronger man by turning into beer.

In Britain, there is an old tradition to bake a loaf in the shape of a wheat sheaf, which is done using the last of the harvested grain.

The loaf is then taken to the richly decorated church. This is done as a symbol of thanksgiving for the harvest. Throughout the world, harvest time has always been the occasion for extraordinary customs. People who work in London markets take part in a special parade during the autumn. They celebrate the harvest time wearing special costumes and are known to be the pearly kings and queens.

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