What is "the reaping"?
The Hunger Games is narrated by Katniss Everdeen, and she mentions the reaping in the very first paragraph of the book. Readers might feel a bit wary about it; however, we have no real reason to think that the reaping is good or bad until the sixth usage of the term.
Tonight. After the reaping, everyone is supposed to celebrate. And a lot of people do, out of relief that their children have been spared for another year. But at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors, and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come.
Those sentences make it clear that the reaping is most definitely something ominous. It is more than a boring town meeting or a gathering where bad news is given. Something evil happens at a reaping.
As readers continue reading the story, we will come to understand just how horrible a reaping is. A reaping is an annual event that takes place in every single district prior to that year's Hunger Games. The reaping is the gathering that chooses by lottery process which two tributes will compete in the Hunger Games. The lottery system randomly chooses one male and one female tribute. The tributes must be at least twelve years of age, and all kids are forced to put their name in the lottery through the age of eighteen. To make matters worse, the entries for each contestant are cumulative. This means that a twelve-year-old will enter his or her name once, but a thirteen-year-old must enter his or her name twice. This continues through the age of eighteen, which means that the child must enter his or her name a minimum of seven times. I say minimum because a child can apply for tesserae. The advantage to applying for tesserae is that it comes with food rationing for a year. The disadvantage is that the child is required to add his/her name into the reaping an additional time.