Source: Doting on Deirdre
The arrival of a fresh breeze and light drizzle in Bologna signalled the end of a blisteringly hot Italian Summer. The wardrobe's contents have been exchanged with those of the boxes under the bed, the oven has become the central focus of the home once more, offering tray after tray of roasted root vegetables, and at last the awkward period of playing chicken with the central heating is over!
The tables at the front would be draped in red cloth and covered in an assortment of fruit and vegetables which the congregation had brought in. Big fat marrows, plump squashes and, of course, several obligatory tins of pineapple chunks and cream of chicken soup were all lined up ready to be distributed to families in the community who needed a helping hand.
Bologna Fruit Stall (Photographer: Naomi Fines)
In an urban context, tinned food can seem cold, sterile and a far cry from the traditional image of a bountiful Harvest overflowing with ripe produce. Tinned goods never feel particularly special despite the fact that they are often specifically requested by charities because they are easily stored and distributed to those who need them.
In fact, several of the people I asked about Harvest this year responded that the festival didn't particularly resonate with them because they felt so removed from the rural origins of the festival. They also cited the fact that most of us are no longer dependent on produce from within the local community. Instead, we're are surrounded by exotic fruits virtually all year round. We think nothing of eating oranges and bananas every day even though they've probably travelled more air miles than most of us travel in a whole year. It's incredibly difficult to feel thankful for something that we so often take for granted.
Come to think of it, although these lyrics are sung joyfully in churches every year, how many of us have actually 'ploughed the fields and scattered the good seed on the land?' Most Harvest songs and readings tend to look back with nostalgia at the good old days and celebrate a lifestyle that most of us have never truly experienced. With that in mind, it's understandable that some people view Harvest as a bit of a nothing festival. Without a personal connection to the land and the food that grows within it, Harvest loses its heart and purpose. As a result, we struggle to relate our experience of the world with the descriptions we hear in song and scripture.
Does that mean Harvest is outdated and should be done away with? Or are there ways in which we can celebrate Harvest in a meaningful way within a modern setting?
Let me know your thoughts!
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Come back later this week when there'll be several interviews shedding light on Harvest in various contexts, looking at it from both rural and urban perspectives, and exploring traditions from Scotland, Canada, and various Christian denominations.