Ascension Day: May 9
Ascension Day is a Christian holiday celebrated around the world.
In Christian doctrine, Ascension Day marks the day that Jesus ascended into heaven after he was resurrected. Also known as the Feast of Ascension, this day is generally observed by Catholics and Anglicans, and in most cases, it occurs 40 days after Easter. As the calculation of forty days after Sunday falls on a Thursday, it is also known as Holy Thursday. However, in some countries, the Roman Catholic Church has received permission to move the observance to the following Sunday as a way to encourage more Catholics to participate in the most important feasts.
History of Ascension Day
Historians have no documents earlier than the fifth century that directly indicate that Ascension Day was celebrated. However, analysis of words from St. Augustine indicates that observance of the feast was common well before his time. Analysis of the controversial canon 43 of the Council of Elvira leads some to believe that the canon is earlier proof of existence of the Ascension Day feast.
Looking to the Bible, the Ascension of Jesus is referenced on three different accounts, and the action is either predicted or spoken of as fact in many other references. Outside Biblical Canon, the Ascension is discussed in the Pistis Sophia, a Gnostic text that is considered the primary source of the Odes. A text from the second century called Against Heresies makes reference to the Ascension, its author, St. Irenaeus, describing the event as occurring 18 months after the Resurrection.
The celebration of Ascension Day has taken slightly different turns between Eastern and Western Christianity. In Western Christianity, the terms used for the feast (ascensio or ascensa) are derived from Latin, promoting the idea that Jesus rose on his own volition. The official date of the feast can only lie between April 30 and June 3. In Eastern Christianity, the terms for the feast (analepsis or episozomene) are derived from Greek, promoting the idea that by rising up, Jesus finished his work of redemption for all. The feast can fall between May 14 and June 17.
Ascension Day Traditions, Customs and Activities
For Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Ascension Day is among the six holy days when attendance at Mass is necessary. It is also a public holiday in many European countries.
In England, there was an old Ascension Day tradition in which the parishioners carried a banner with the symbol of a lion at the start of the procession followed by a banner with a symbol of a dragon at the rear. This was done to display the victory of Christ over the devil.
Across the world, different traditions are performed by different churches, such as blessing the First Fruits. Some churches hold outdoor processions with banners and torches, while others describe the Ascension of Christ by lifting a statue of Jesus above the altar and raising it through a special door in the roof.
Portugal’s Ascension Day Traditions, Customs and Activities
At the time that Portugal became a republic, in 1910, the Republican Government placed emphasis on the religious holidays, including the one used to celebrate the Ascension of Christ. Today, the Ascension Day is a public holiday only in select regions. However, Christian communities around the country gather to celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven with Mass and organized prayer meetings within the Easter spirit of the season.
Also celebrated on this day is the Dia da Espiga (Day of the Corn) in Portugal. Traditionally, boys and girls go out into the fields in the early morning to pick corn and flowers to make flower arrangements, symbolizing wealth, peace, and happiness in their lives. This bouquet is kept inside the house until the next year. Today this tradition has been lost since many people live within the city limits away from corn fields.