September 12th – The Harvest Festival

There’s been a certain bite to the air in the last few weeks, as the summer comes to an end. That’s not to say that the weather hasn’t been good; weather in Buentoille tends to be pretty steady year-on-year, and the last few weeks have provided a good amount of sunshine to grace the fields. It’s just that there is a crispness to the wind, a slight dampness to the air that wasn’t there before, and thoughts have begun to turn to autumn, to falling leaves, longer nights and the harvest, much of which is due to be completed today, whilst the fields are nice and dry.

Harvest time has always been a time of particular togetherness, even in Buentoille, a City known for its communal and interconnected nature. At one time, before mechanical labour-saving devices like combine harvesters and tractors, it would have been a time when workers all across the City put down their usual tools and picked up scythes and sickles, to ensure that the grains, especially, were brought in in a timely manner. This switching of roles was particularly common with quilters and those of associated industries, whose work wasn’t particularly urgent, though it was tolerated by employers across the board, who had their bellies as well as their pockets to think about. The pay was never wonderful, and the labour fairly hard, but it was time spent out in the fields with friends and family, working towards a common goal, and this made up for many evils.

There is still something of this togetherness through common labour retained today, as those fields closest to the City, and many of the green spaces within, are now formed into allotments, where folk from around Buentoille are entitled to grow food or flowers or whatever they like really, providing it can be dug back out of the ground when it’s someone else’s turn after five years. Most of the land that runs between the outreached fingers of the City is set aside for this purpose, intersected by train lines which provide easy access to the gardeners. The main bulk of Buentoille’s agricultural land, however, is farmed by the Cooperatives whose production is directly informed by orders from the Council of Logistics, which still maintains a monopoly on all large-scale food production and trading, to ensure low, fair prices and that there is no return of the Great Grain Crisis. With modern equipment the Cooperative members are far fewer than they would have once been, but they still number in the thousands, and have filled the fields with bustling activity for the last day or two.

There are a number of harvests, of course, because various crops are grown in Buentoille, but the biggest crops grown around the City are by far cereals; wheat and barley, predominantly; and the harvest of these is due to finish today. Like many festivals at this time of year, today’s Harvest Festival chiefly consists of drinking and eating large amounts, in particular beer made from last year’s harvest and bread from this year’s. There are three ‘harvest halls,’ (i.e. repurposed old tithe barns) on the City outskirts where the festivities mainly take place, decked out with wheat sheaf decorations and flowers aplenty; this is one of the year’s highlights for the Cooperative members, and it is treated with due reverence. In addition to hearty stews, roasted vegetables and freshly baked bread, a good deal of roasted meat is also eaten in the western and southern harvest halls, though not in the eastern hall, where vegetarianism and veganism are the norm.

Yet there are some more idiosyncratic traditions which are observed today, as well as these familiar scenes of righteous gluttony. As part of the celebrations, any Chastise Church members amongst the harvesters will deliver a ceremonial wheat sheaf to the Church of the Holy Host, where it will be laid on the main altar, a symbol of humankind’s ability to survive without the help of any god or impostergod. Depending on the roll of a dice made at the headquarters of the Union of Children, a child might burst forth from this sheaf at the beginning of the daily service. It has been this way for centuries, and there is usually a pregnant pause from the Priest after they’ve said the first few words. They aren’t allowed to check the sheaf on delivery, of course. That would be cheating.

There is also the matter of the grain parade, where harvest workers would carry sheaves through the streets singing ‘we will eat, we will eat, to the miller’s you must go!’ This practice was called off, however, during the Great Grain Crisis, for fear of theft. Nowadays, after the feast, a number of tractors are almost entirely covered in wheat and paraded through the streets with accompanying songs. The harvest workers hang off these slow convoys, drinking beer and throwing it over those who pass them.

Finally, there are the straw people. These are small figures fashioned by many households with straw either gotten from the fields by hand or bought from roving straw sellers. They must be completed before the day is out, and installed in the rafters or similar secret spot within the house, and then they will provide protection from all manner of foul spirits and poor luck throughout the long winter months. Some families even make small straw houses for the figures, which are made by every member of the family, and are ‘copies’ of each person that will absorb any bad luck. Legend has it that on the night of the harvest moon (normally in September, but this year in October) these figures come to life and dance arcane dances out of sight. Last year’s figures will also be burned today, expelling all the bad luck that they gathered throughout the year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Server’s Day
  • The Festival of Doughty Nieces
  • The Festival of the Blackened Foot