(Note: I'm posting this for Regina, who is hopefully on her way home out of Texas and Hurricane Ike's path. To our readers on the Gulf Coast, please take care!)
In the United States, the fall ushers in a series of celebrations, from Halloween to New Year's. Nineteenth century lads and lasses had their own celebrations, starting with Harvest Home in September.
Harvest Home, or Ingathering, traditionally was a dinner to celebrate the last of the grain coming in from the fields. In the 1700s, it was celebrated on September 22 in England, but the date and the amount of celebration gradually waned through the 1800s. The final harvest was generally commemorated by each farmer with a huge outdoor supper for those who had labored in the fields (men, women, and children). The last sheaves of grain were often brought in by cart and tied in such a way as to resemble a human, dubbed “John Barleycorn.” (Thanks to Jack London, the name is synonymous with alcohol, but that wasn’t the original intent!)
Supper might be a round of beef and rasher of bacon or perhaps a chicken, goose, or turkey. Laborers ate off wooden trenchers and drank from horns filled with beer or cider.
According to William Hone’s Year Book (1832), men would offer the farmer the following toast:
“Here’s to the health of our master
The founder of the feast,
And I hope to God wi’ all my heart
His soul in heaven mid rest
That every thing mid prosper
That ever he take in hand
For we be all his servants
And all at his command.”
During and after the supper, participants would treat each other to jokes, stories, and songs. The local gentry or aristocracy would provide some token of appreciation, often money, called “largesse.” After all, some portion of that harvest would trickle back into their coffers as rent, seeing them through the year as well.
And speaking of celebrations and years, next week marks the one year anniversary of Nineteen Teen! Marissa and I thank you all for spending time with us this past year and hope you’ll continue to grace us with your presence in the coming year. And to celebrate (and share some of our largesse), we’ll be offering chances to win prizes and provide input on where we go from here. Please join us!