Year 1 / Issue 9 / A Time to Sow A Time to Reap / Mei Shao

A Time to Sow, A Time to Reap

Mei Shao

When the Editor in Chief of Mehregon, Mr. Fardad Fereshteh Housh was envisioning the magazine in 2009, he took the name of this ancient Persian festival in its celebratory spirits. Now, almost a year later, at the eve of Mehregan, I would like to extend the idea of Mehregan out of Iran and introduce to you a few other harvest festivals in the world. Hopefully this will remind you, as much as a diverse city we are living in, we have all felt so much alike at times, although we may look so much different.

Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival); the Chinese Harvest Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of every 8th lunar month. The date is different every year since it follows the lunar calendar, but it usually happens anywhere between early September and early October. It is the most important festival after the Chinese Lunar New Year. The moon on the night of the 15th day of lunar August is believed to be fuller and brighter than in other months. A full moon is a symbol of togetherness. As such, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for family reunion. The origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival derived from the tradition of worshipping the Goddess of Moon. The festival is also a time to celebrate a good autumn harvest. It dates back thousands of years and the modern-day festive customs were gradually formed over the years. Generally speaking, eating moon cakes, enjoying the moon and lighting up lanterns are common traditions on the festival.

A moon cake is a delicately-stuffed round cake that is delicious and nice to look at. The cake is often given as a gift between family and friends during the festival. A small cake is a carrier of good wishes between family members, the eagerness to join family reunion and people's praying for happiness. If you stop by at a Chinese grocery store in Toronto around Mid-Autumn Day, you will be amazed by the variety of moon cakes available there. My personal favorite one is the one with lotus paste stuffing and egg yolk in the centre.

The moon festival has recently become a statutory holiday in China when people are off work and school to enjoy a day with family. This year, the festival falls on September 22nd. For a lot of families in Toronto, Moon Festival means a family dinner in Mandarin where they can enjoy the food and the company of the others.

Chuseok, the Korean Harvest Festival

Chuseok, the Korean Harvest Festival follows the same lunar calendar as Chinese Mid-Autumn Day, and falls on the same day of the 15th day of the 8th month. So this year, it was on September 22nd.

Many scholars believe Chuseok may originate from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon - the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox.  New harvests are offered to local deities and ancestors, which means Chuseok may have originated as a worship ritual. In some areas, if there is no harvest, worship rituals are postponed, or in areas with no annual harvest, Chuseok is not celebrated.

In modern South Korea, Chuseok is a three-day holiday, starting one day before the 15th day of the 8th month. During this holiday, many Koreans return to their hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of one's ancestors. People perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning. They often visit the tombs of their immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors. Harvest crops are attributed to the blessing of ancestors.

One of the major foods prepared and eaten during the Chuseok holiday is Songpyeon (송편), a crescent-shaped rice cake which is steamed upon pine needles. Other foods commonly prepared are Japchae, Bulgogi and fruits like watermelon and grape.

Mehregan, the
Persian Festival of Autumn

The Mehregan Festival or the Persian Festival of Autumn, or the Persian Harvest Festival, is an ancient Persian fest which is dedicated to Mehr or Mithra/Mitra, the Goddess and symbol of light, friendship, faith, love and kindness.

It is celebrated each year at the beginning of autumn on the 16th of Mehr in the 7th month. Simliar to the Chinese Harvest Festival, Mehregan is the second most important traditional Persian festival next to Nowruz. In ancient Iran, people celebrated these two festivals, both derived from Zoroastrian religion, when the length of day and night were equal (solstice). They celebrated Mehregan with music, special dances and by giving gifts to each other. They used a burgundy-colored cloth and put some flowers on it, which were called the “ever-lasting flower” and around this flower was adorned with other flowers.

After the Arab invasion to Iran and the change of the religion from Zoroastrianism to Islam, many cultural traditions survived and some were weakened. Mehregan is one of those that hardly survived and people’s knowledge about it and its related history is scarce. In the past 200 years the attention of Iranians to Mehregan Fest has declined. But in the recent decades because of political and cultural transformations, people are interested in the ancient Persian values. Many people, especially in countries outside Iran celebrate this fest.

This year, Mehrgan is on October 8th, the same weekend as American Thanksgiving, which will be covered next. Actually, according to some resources, October 8th has been the day for the fest for the last 2,000 years. There is evidence that shows before this time, in the age of the Achaemenid Dynasty, the exact day was on the first day of autumn – the 1st of Mehr or the 23rd of September. Later, the date changed to October 8th. One belief for this change was to have something to do with the festival system in the age of Zoroastrianism. At that time, any day, which had a similar day name and month name, was a day for happiness and celebration. Therefore, the Mehr-day of the Mehr-month or the 16th of Mehr became a national fest and gradually took the place of the first day of autumn.

Thanksgiving Day, the American Harvest Festival

Thanksgiving Day is a Harvest Festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada, although the dates when it is celebrated in these two countries are different. Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday of October (Oct. 11 this year); whereas the US Thanksgiving occurs on the fourth Thursday of November. Unlike the American tradition of remembering pilgrims and settling in the new world, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest. The harvest season falls earlier in Canada compared to the United States due to the simple fact that Canada is further north. 

Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada, with the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia being the exceptions. Where a company is regulated by the federal government (such as those in the telecommunications and banking sectors), it is recognized regardless of status provincially.

While the actual Thanksgiving holiday is on a Monday, Canadians might eat their Thanksgiving meal on any day of the three-day weekend, though Sunday and Monday are the most common. While Thanksgiving is usually celebrated with a large family meal of turkey and smashed potato, it is also often a time for weekend getaways.

Unlike the American counterpart, Thanksgiving parades are not common in Canada. Also unlike the United States, Canada does not have a big shopping day after Thanksgiving the way the United States does (the Black Thursday). Boxing Day - December 26th - is the equivalent in terms of sales and shopping extravaganzas in Canada.

Like other public holidays in Canada, banks, government offices, schools and many businesses are closed, although some tourist attractions and landmarks may remain open.