Most people in Slovakia lived off the land until relatively recently. Until the Second World War, the majority of people worked in agriculture. It is no surprise that the rural way of life and farming underpinned all Slovak folk customs and traditions.
Summer was a critical time for all farmers. The harvest season started as early as June in southern regions and finished in September. It was the busiest time of the entire year as families worked day and night to bring the harvest. The window of time, during which people had to bring in what ripened in the fields, was brief and every hand was needed.
Why the rush? One short intense storm could have devasting consequences. Failure to harvest fruits, vegetables, and, most importantly, grains, was synonymous with hardship, struggle, and even death. Winter in this part of the world is long and harsh.
Once all was accomplished, it was time to celebrate! The harvest season ends with dožinky, harvest festivals. People gathered to enjoy the fruits of their hard labor, but before they could, they had to perform a ritual. The last stalks of cereal plants were weaved into a wreath or fashioned into a bouquet and taken to the church to be blessed. The harvest celebration that followed and that is still practiced today, was an expression of immense gratitude for the gifts of nature. In the past, the lives of the family and community depended on the success of the harvest. Giving thanks to nature and God was also a plea for a merciful winter and good fortune for the next growing season. Today, dožinky takes place on the last weekend in August.