The reader should keep in mind that this article was written in the 1950s and reflects the situation at the time.
The observance of harvest festivals among the Mennonites in the United States and Canada is of comparatively recent origin, in most cases apparently beginning during the first third of the 20th century. Today harvest festivals are widely observed in the United States and Canada, especially among the Mennonite Brethren and General Conference churches. In some churches the present observance seems to be an outgrowth of an earlier Thanksgiving Day worship service. In other instances Mennonites imitated the pattern established by other Protestant churches. In eastern Pennsylvania, for instance, the harvest festival is widely observed in Lutheran and Reformed churches by annually placing the best fruits of the harvest on the altar of the church in connection with a worship service.
The harvest festivals today in Mennonite churches seem generally to represent a combination of mission and relief interests. Most churches observing this occasion arrange services for a special Sunday, usually in October or November. In some places there are two or three services, usually with a noon or an evening fellowship meal. It is the common practice for one session to be devoted to inspirational messages centering around the theme of missions and another session around the theme of sharing. Outside speakers and visiting missionaries and ministers are often a feature of the harvest festival. In many churches the special day is marked by appropriate decoration of the church with colored leaves, fruits, cereals, and other items symbolic of the harvest of the various regions. In all of the churches special emphasis is placed on giving. Offerings that have been strongly encouraged for weeks are received at each service for worthy causes such as missions, relief, and peace activities of the church. Many churches seek to make this a high point in the church year in generous giving.
Some churches use this occasion to dramatize the special projects which individuals and groups in the church have carried on during the year, as for instance, the "God's acre" plan, by which members of the church, individually or collectively, contribute the crop from an acre of ground to the work of the church. In many churches the gifts-in-kind are brought for the festival to be sold later and the proceeds given to the church. In every instance the purpose of the harvest festival is to encourage the outreach of the church through missions, relief, and other service phases of the church's work in addition to being a corporate expression of gratitude. The observance of the occasion seems to be spreading to many churches, and the enthusiasm for the festivals seems to be growing.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 671. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Fretz, J. Winfield. "Harvest Festivals." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/harvest_festivals.
APA style: Fretz, J. Winfield. (1956). Harvest Festivals. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/harvest_festivals.