In England, the Autumn Equinox is traditionally known as Harvest-Home;
in Scotland, Kirn. In the north of England, the name is Mell-Supper.
southern counties of England, labourers elected from among
a lord’ who made all the terms for work
with the farmers and took the lead with the scythe. He made
all the rules and all addressed him as “My Lord”.
Disobedience to the ‘lord’ was punished by fines,
and he was first to eat and drink. In Buckinghamshire, a lady
as well was elected. But the ‘lady’ was also one
of the workmen.
last cut was brought home in a wagon called the Hock Cart,
by a figure formed of a sheaf with festive
dressings. “A presumable representation of the goddess
Ceres”, notes the 19th -century English folklorist, Robert
Chambers. There were musicians, singing and dancing.
In Lincolnshire, hand bells were rung by those riding on the
last load, and singing:
The boughs do shake and the bells do ring,
So merrily comes our harvest in,
Our harvest in, our harvest in,
So merrily comes our harvest in!
It was a favourite practical joke to ambush the cart and drench
the party with water.
were held, in the north of England, for the best harvesters
a mell, from Fr. mêlée).
last sheaf was laid down flat and cut by ‘the
bonniest lass’ (the Har'st Queen) for a Corn Baby (corn
doll). It was the centrepiece of festivities and at the table
that night, and usually preserved in the farmer’s parlour
for the coming year. Note the similarity to this and the ancient
Latvian harvest ritual of Mikeli (September 22).
the final sheaf was tied up and erected, called a Mare, and
reapers took turns at throwing their sickles
at it, to cut it down. The successful reaper cried out “I
have her!” “What have you?” cried the rest. “A
mare, a mare, a mare!” he replied. “What will you
do with her?” was then asked. “We’ll send
her to John Bloggs,” or whoever, referring to some neighbouring
farmer who had not got his harvest in. This was called Crying
the Mare. The reference is to the wild horses that used to
range over the commons and cause damage.
the reaper would call “Arnack! Arnack!” meaning ‘our
nag’, and the last sheaf was called the ‘nack’.
Isle of Skye, the last handful at harvest was sent, under
the name of Goabbir
Bhacagh (‘the Cripple Goat’)
to the next farmer who was still harvesting. The deliverer
had to be able to escape the consequences of so embarrassing
At the feast following, the song was sung:
a health to our master,
The lord of the feast;
God bless his endeavours,
And send him increase!
May prosper his crops, boys,
And we reap next year;
Here’s our master’s good health, boys,
Come, drink off your beer!
Now harvest is ended,
And supper is past;
Here’s our mistress’s health, boys,
Come, drink a full glass.
a good woman,
Provides us good cheer;
Here’s to your mistress’s good health, boys,
Come, drink off your beer!
one elected lord went out, put on a disguise, came in again,
crying “Lar-gesse!” He and some companions went
about with a plate collecting money for further celebrations
at the alehouse.
In Scotland, today was celebrated as the Kirn (supposed to
be from the churn of cream usually presented at the supper).
The threshers donned blue and pink ribbons. There was a haggis
feast and much dancing to the sound of the fiddle.
these festivities were antique by Chambers’s time,
as Puritanism and commercialism killed off these and other
natural feelings of the people.
Chambers, R, (Ed.), The
Book of Days: A miscellany of popular antiquities
in connection with the calendar, etc,
W & R Chambers, London, 1881 (1879
Edition is online; See
The English Year: A Personal
Selection from Chambers' Book of Days)