Celebrate Harvest Festivals from Around the Globe

Celebrate Harvest Festivals from Around the Globe

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Updated on Nov 3, 2008

Thanksgiving: think football, changing leaves, pilgrims, and the family gathered around the table for an annual feast of . . . moon cakes? If you think America has the market cornered on harvest festivals, think again. People across the globe celebrate the bounty of the annual yield just as Americans do—and have been doing so, in fact, since long before the Pilgrims ever disembarked at Plymouth Rock. Reconnect with your roots through some of these traditional harvest festivals from around the world.

Moon Festival

With its deep agrarian roots, the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival celebrates the bounty of the growing season in China. It takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (usually September). Traditionally, celebrants eat delicious round pastries called moon cakes to celebrate the bright harvest moon and a plentiful crop. Some moon cakes still made according to custom, containing a lotus seed or sweet bean paste, some are produced by the likes of Starbucks and Haagen-Dasz. Great children's books about the Moon Festival include The Moon Lady by Amy Tan and Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats, a Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities and Recipes by the Children's Museum of Boston.

Yam Festival

Yams are the first fruit of the harvest in Ghana and Nigeria, and the annual Yam Festival celebrates the new growing season for this staple food. As it is described in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, any remaining yams from the old year are first discarded and revelers wash pots, pans and mortars for cooking. The new yams are then offered first to the gods and ancestors in these countries and then distributed to villagers, who also celebrate with traditional music and a procession of chiefs.

Here’s a simple recipe for Yummy Yam Muffins to help your child celebrate this harvest holiday.

What You Need:

  • 1 cup cooked mashed yams
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped nuts 

What You Do:

  1. Mix all ingredients until moist
  2. Preheat to 350 degrees
  3. Grease muffin tins
  4. Pour batter into tins and bake for about 25 minutes


The feast day of St. Martin of Tours (also called Martlemas) is celebrated throughout Europe. This celebration takes place on November 11th. As St. Martin was the patron saint of vintners, so his feast day marks the day of the grape harvest. The pagan Irish sprinkled the blood of a pig on their threshold and in the four corners of their house for a festival which eventually merged into St. Martin's Day; today, a pork dinner on St. Martin's Eve suffices. Other customs throughout Europe include games, Martinmas caroling, and lantern processions. Here's a great lantern-making activity to help celebrate Martinmas.

Adult supervision is recommended.

What You Need:

  • tin can (16 oz works best)
  • hammer
  • nail
  • towel
  • water
  • sand
  • votive candle
  • wire
  • paper
  • pencil
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