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Meanings and dates of Christian holy days

Ascension day

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About Ascension Day:

Christians observe the biblical story of Jesus' ascension from the earth into the clouds from either Jerusalem, Bethany, or the Mount of Olives; biblical references differ.

It is normally observed on a Thursday, exactly forty days after Easter Sunday. Depending upon the phases of the moon in a particular year, it is celebrated in the West between sometime between April 30 and June 03. However, some churches -- particularly in the United States -- celebrate Ascension Day on the following Sunday.

Ascension day marks the end of the Easter season. It occurs ten days before Pentecost, which many regard as the date when the Christian church was founded.

Saint Augustine wrote of Ascension Day that it:

"is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished."

Status of Ascension Day:

The three Rogation days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) that precede Ascension Day were once days of fasting. The name was derived from the Latin word "rogare" which means "to ask." This was because the Gospel reading on the preceding Sunday -- called Rogation Sunday -- was from John 16:24. It included the phrase "Ask and ye shall receive."

On these days, farmers would have the local priest bless the crops. The Rogation days were discontinued by the Second Vatican Council in 1970. Rogation Sunday is now called simply the Fifth Sunday of Easter. 3

"In Roman Catholicism the Ascension of the Lord is a Holy Day of Obligation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Ascension is one of twelve Great Feasts." 1 However, among many Protestant churches -- particularly those who are strongly anti-Catholic, the day is being neglected.

Superstitions associated with Ascension day:

Wikipedia reports:

  • According to Welsh superstition, it is unlucky to do any work on Ascension Day.
  • In Devon, it was an ancient belief that the clouds always formed into the familiar Christian image of a lamb.
  • If the weather is sunny, the summer will be long and hot; but if it rains, crops will do badly and livestock, especially cattle, will suffer from disease.
  • Rain collected on Ascension Day is said to be good for inflamed or diseased eyes.
  • Those suffering from goiter should bite into the bark of a peach tree at midnight on Ascension Day, so that the disease passes to the tree and the sufferer is cured.
  • Gifts to the blind or lame made on this day are sure to be rewarded with great wealth within the following twelve months.
  • If you eat lamb on Ascension Day, your eye will develop a sty and your retinas will detach. 1

British customs associated with Ascension Day:

The England in Particular web site describes three English traditions associated with Ascension day:

  • Sunday before Ascension Day: The Byzant Ceremony was held at Tout Hill in Shaftesbury. In ancient times, water in that area came from deep wells. However, much better quality spring water was available at Enmore Green in the neighboring parish of Motcombe. Water carriers regularly carried water up the hill to supply Shaftesbury. On the Sunday before Ascension Day, to ensure a reliable supply, the Mayor of Shaftesbury would led a procession down the hill to give gifts to the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham. They consisted of high quality products from the area: ale, white wheaten bread, a calf's head and gloves. A Byzant, described as being "like a May garland with gold and peacocks feathers" was taken to the Lord of the Manor and later returned up the hill. A Lord and Lady for the day were chosen -- often the couple who were most recently married. In 1662, the date was changed to the Monday before Ascension Day. The ceremony was celebrated until 1830.
  • Three days before Ascension Day: Rogationtide (a.k.a. Beating the Bounds) involved a blessing of the crops and checking of the parish boundaries. Boundary markers such as trees and boulders would be memorized. Children would be submurged into boundary rivers or streams and then given Rammalation biscuits and Ganging Beer.
  • Ascension Day: Any rain on this day was regarded as falling "straight from a Heaven opened for Christ's entry" and was believed to have curative powers. Water taken from wells on this day was also considered magical. It was often mixed with sugar and licorice for children to drink. 2

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Ascension," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascension
  2. "River Customs," England in Particular, http://www.england-in-particular.info/
  3. "Rogation days," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogation_days

Copyright © 2007 & 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Latest update: 2008-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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