The United States may have been (according to The Gazette of York, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 1899) “the only country which has no established harvest customs. In some parts harvest celebrations are held, but we have no traditions such as they have abroad.”
In 1884, an announcement published in Bismarck Weekly Tribune of Bismarck, North Dakota, (on August 8, 1884) indicates that community hadn’t yet made a traditional event of their own. Local farmers had been talking, expressing a wish to indulge in a harvest festival. When? Where? What time? In the city? On a farm? ….once the rush and hurry of the harvest was over, of course.
Victorian America (in the late nineteenth century, at least) may have not had established harvest customs, but communities certainly enjoyed “Harvest Celebrations”, and such events were reported in the newspapers. Here are several, in order, oldest to newest.
A colorful noun borrowed from German (no doubt from German Immigrants, mid-nineteenth century), referencing the confusion and uproar of cats (in distress) howling and screaming. This term was applied to “a hangover, a severe headache resulting from a hangover”. “The term was popularized by the cartoon Katzenjammer Kids, drawn by Rudolf Dirks (1877 – 1968) in 1897 for the New York Journal, featuring two incorrigible children.” Note: One of the documented references for use of “kids” for children in the 19th century.
Note: Crops of virtually all kinds yielded beautifully in 1877–reasonable prices, plenty for all, anticipation of a winter with plenty to eat. Within just a couple of years, a decade began of deprivation, hunger, harsh winters that began early and ended late, wherein many people suffered greatly. See my post on Victorian Blizzards, Nonstop in the 1880s.
The Program for Season of 1898, in Lincoln Park, Bakerville (as reported in The Marshfield News and Wisconsin Hub) of Marshfield, Wisconsin on September 8, 1898, must have been published from summer on, at least a few times, as it still includes the Independence Day events and a Picnic on Sunday, July 24th, as well as an annual Schützenfest held on Sunday, September 4, Day and evening–though republished on September 8th of that year. The advertisement includes “Harvest Celebration” to be held Sunday, August 15, Day and evening.
Schützenfest, translated as the Marksmen’s Fest, is a traditional German festival dating back to medieval times. It celebrates a marksman saving a young child’s life from an eagle attack.
Schützenfest was brought to Cincinnati in 1866 by German immigrants.
The Salvation Army held celebrations of “Thanksgiving at Harvest Time”, “For Year of Plenty”. Note the subheading: “Rich and Poor Alike to Be Asked to Bring Their Gifts to the Altar of Praise–Large Amounts Raised in This Way for Benevolent Purposes–Observance of Local Corps Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.”
The Salvation Army held a different kind of Harvest Celebration, attended by dignitaries in their organization, running from Saturday night until Tuesday evening (three-day celebrations weren’t unique to The Salvation Army). Note that the occasion “will begin with a grand march Saturday and an “egg meeting,” when all are expected to bring an egg or eggs to the hall for sale, Saturday night.” As a fund-raiser? After Saturday and Sunday services… “there will be a display of produce which will be sold Monday night.” Anther fund raiser?
Merchants discounted prices and held SALES during Harvest Celebrations… at least in St. Louis, Missouri.
This may not be a “celebration” custom, but a harvest custom “corn huskings” indeed were! This article, “Eating Pie on a Wager” made the rounds through the Norway Advertiser, Lewiston (Me.) Journal, and printed here in The Daily Republican (of Monogahela, Pennsylvania).
Kirmiss? “Thirty-third Annual Kirmiss, or harvest celebration”:
In Europe, particularly in Belgium and Holland, and outdoor festival and fair; in the United States, generally an indoor entertainment and fair combined.