The harvest season is upon us, and harvest festivals abound. Here in the U.S. we celebrate autumn’s bounty with pumpkin and apple fests, with wine fests and apple butter frolics, and, of course, with Thanksgiving. But harvest festivals are not a uniquely American entity; they are as abundant and varied as autumn leaves are colorful.
1. Chanthaburi Fruit Fair: Chanthaburi, Thailand.
Thailand’s annual fruit fair is to fruit what Thanksgiving is to vegetables. Vendors line the street selling delicious fruit you’ve never even heard of before—durians, rambutan, longans, and mangosteens. There are also produce competitions, art displays, beauty pageants, and parades with floats made from thousands of tropical fruits and vegetables. Prizes are awarded for best fruit display and best tasting fruit. A fruit lover’s dream!
2. Sukkot: Jerusalem, Israel and elsewhere.
Sukkot (pronounced ‘Sue Coat’) is both a celebration of Israel’s bountiful harvests and a period of somber reflection. Observers build makeshift huts called sukkah, with roofs open to the sky, where they eat and sleep for the next seven days. Every day through this seven day period, the ‘lulav’ and the ‘etrog’, a willow wand and a type of lemon respectively, are shaken in all directions to honor the gifts from the land. These ceremonies are meant to memorialize the long years the Israelites spent in the desert.
At the Olivagando Oil and Autumn Festival, the olive is king. This two-day festival, held in Magione, Italy, is celebrated in concert with the feast of St. Clement, patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths. The high point of the festival is the sought-after olive oil made from la dolce agogia. Along with the oils, attendees enjoy wines, fresh walnuts and chestnuts, hand-made cheeses, cured meats, and truffles. There are also oil tastings, workshops, art contests, antiques markets, and horseback tours. And if that’s not enough, the Magione Theatrical Company provides entertainment in the form of singing, dancing, and storytelling!
4. Yam Festival: Ghana and Nigeria
Yams may be but a side dish here in the States, but in Ghana and Nigeria’s harvest celebrations they are the piece de resistance. Unlike other harvest celebrations, the Yam Festival isn’t held on a specific day, but whenever the rainy season ends, usually in July or August. Corn, okra, beans, and cassava are also served, along with fish, chicken, lamb, and various soups. Desserts include mangoes, guavas, pineapples or oranges. There is also ceremonial drumming, singing, mask-wearing, and other festive activities including parades.
5. Itel’men Tribal Harvest Festival: Kamchatka, Russia
This frosty festival celebrates the harvest of the tribal indigenous Russians of the Koriak—the Itel’men and Sunda peoples. In homage to their ancestors, tribes-people make a 43 mile hike to the top of Mt. Elvel where they leave a sacramental wooden carving. Festival-goers also enjoy a sweet rice dish known as “Pongal” to celebrate the apple, nut, and honey harvests. A type of homemade Vodka is consumed, and villagers compete for the tastiest variation on salmon, potatoes, berries, and gir (bear fat). Also included in the festival: dancing, drumming, chanting, singing, and totem-carving.