For as long as we’ve had agrarian societies we’ve had harvest celebrations. A plentiful harvest meant food and sustenance to last a cold hard winter — what better an occasion for celebrating is that? In secular America we have Thanksgiving, but for Pagans, Mabon is our preferred harvest holiday. In fact, many call it “Pagan Thanksgiving”. This week in my blog let’s chat about how harvest holidays came to be the way they are now, how we can observe them respectfully, and more!
Why secular American chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving in late November (so long after the harvest is actually completed, usually) has always been a mystery to me. The only information I could track down was that it was simply “tradition”. Originally Abraham Lincoln decreed that Thanksgiving would be last Thursday in November. (Always on a Thursday — is this a subtle magick? Thursdays being good for magick surrounding wealth, health, abundance, and prosperity…) Later in the late 1930s Roosevelt changed it to the third Thursday where it remains to this day. If we were to assume that it was in November in order to be historically accurate — that would be wrong. Most sources suggest the widely regarded “First Thanksgiving” most likely took placed in October of 1621 between the Wampanoags and the English colonists.
Traditionally, the harvest lasts from early August (Lammas) until late October and sometimes into November (Samhain). The Wiccan/NeoPagan Wheel of the Year is based very much off the agricultural calendar and as such we actually have three holidays that fall within harvest season; Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain. Lammer celebrates the beginning of the harvest, Mabon the height of the harvest, and Samhain its end. It is considered poor luck to not have completed a harvest by Samhain as it was believed the plants each contained a spirit and to leave them to fallow in the field was akin to torture to them.
Much more importantly, the original meeting “The First Thanksgiving”, according to the actual First Peoples of that land, was a meeting of warriors and hunters and was intended as a land negotiation. In the early 1600s it was typical after a victorious battle with a “warring” tribe (who was only defending their shrinking homeland that was slowly being stolen from them by colonists) that they would have a celebration that they deemed a “Thanksgiving”. In every way imaginable, even the word Thanksgiving — nevermind the celebration itself — is a celebration of the murder of indigenous people trying only to save their way of life and lands. (Credit to Rachel Sayet, Mohegan Tribal Member and Indigenous Educator.)
Celebrating the Harvest in a Good Way
Another suggestion to celebrating the harvest ethically might also involve trying to eat only local food — or possibly even researching indigenous recipes for your area. Consider having something other than turkey, which was actually not eaten by indigenous people in the 1600s. Get the food for your harvest feasts from a local farm or — even better — pick your own if you can find a place that offers to do so.
And just like everything else in NeoPaganism — very little is solely a literal practice. The entire Wheel of the Year is a cycle of spiritual self-transformation once you learn to live and learn within the cycle. Ancient people knew a deep secret that we still struggle with today sometimes; Good things come to those that are grateful for what they already have. That is the true spirit of the harvest and Mabon season. By celebrating what we have, we make room for more!
So, celebrate and celebrate well my Witchy Mamas. What are your Harvest traditions? Tell me about it in the comments below!