Anyone with schoolchildren in the family will soon be asked to open the larder and take out some offerings for the annual Harvest Festival.

It’s easy to pull out a couple of tins or packets without much thought – but in fact, this simple act is tapping in to an ancient and symbolic ritual that has always been revered, particularly in rural communities.

The celebration of harvest and food grown on the land is about giving thanks for a successful crop, and storing it up for the winter. It dates back hundreds of years, to the pagan era when people relied on crops for food, and famers would give thanks for a good harvest. 

The celebrations became popular again in Victorian times as a kind of elaborate ‘thanksgiving’ service, including prayer and church services.

Nowadays, it tends to be used as a way to teach people about how food gets from farm to table, and is celebrated across many religions at different times of the year around the world.

Here in the UK, like many of our traditional festivals, Harvest Thanksgiving usually takes place on the Sunday closest to the Harvest Moon, which this year falls on September 23.

One thing many of us will remember from our school or church harvest festivals is that impressively decorative wheatsheaf-shaped loaf which usually formed the centrepiece of the festival table.

These loaves go way back into Celtic history, when farmers’ wives would make such loaves from the first cut of wheat, and take them into the church to be blessed and then used in the Mass.

As years went by these loaves became more and more complex and artistic, intricately formed into the shape of a detailed wheatsheaf – and often featuring a tiny Harvest mouse for people to discover.