First published in Local Reach
Although the end of harvest has been celebrated for a very long time, you may be interested to know that the Victorian tradition of Harvest Home celebrations here in Somerset began in East Brent on the 3rd September 1857, inaugurated by archdeacon George Denison, who apparently decided that the end of harvest should be celebrated and recognised as an official holiday. In 1861 the Church of England recognised Harvest Home as a fixture in the Church calendar and the idea soon spread to other villages. It is still an occasion for a knees up in many villages in Somerset although there aren’t so many farmers present as when it started.
Getting the harvest in does, of course, depend on good weather and the expression “make hay while the sun shines” arose as a reminder that the “Dog Days” were coming. The term traditionally refers to the period of hot and humid weather that occurs at the end of July and the beginning of August in the Northern Hemisphere, the Dog referring to Sirius the Dog Star which rises at this time of year. In ancient Greece and Rome, the Dog Days were believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat. Today, the phrase doesn’t conjure up such bad imagery but The Old Farmers Almanac (1817) says that “when Sirius takes charge of the weather, he is such an unsteady crazy dog, there is no dependence on him”.
Rainfall at this time was considered in the past to be a bad omen as this verse says
Dog Days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times, our hopes are vain.
So: Let’s hope for some sunny Dog Days!