Orthodox Ascension Day
©iStockphoto.com/ Marcus Lindström
What do people do?
Ascension Day is officially celebrated on a Thursday on the 40th day of Easter (or 39 days after Easter Sunday). In countries where it is a public holiday, Ascension Day is a free day for many workers. Many people take a long weekend off because the day falls on a Thursday. The Friday in between is usually quiet, particularly in shops and offices. Despite Christianity being a minority religion in Indonesia, Ascension Day is a public holiday and special services take place at churches throughout the country.
Ascension Day is sometimes called Father’s Day in Germany because many Protestant men have herrenpartien “outings” on this day. In Sweden many people go out to the woods at 3am or 4am to hear the birds at sunrise. It is good luck if a cuckoo is heard from the east or west. These jaunts are called gökotta, or “early cuckoo morning”.
In England, Ascension Day is associated with various water festivals ranging from Well Dressing in Derbyshire to the Planting of the “Penny Hedge” at Whitby, a small town in Yorkshire. Other customs may include “beating the bounds”. In the old days, it involved beating boys with willow branches as they are driven along parish boundaries, not only to purify them of evil but to teach them the limits of their parish. In modern times, it involves people in the locality walking around their farm, manorial, church or civil boundaries pausing as they pass certain trees, walls and hedges that denote the extent of the boundary to exclaim, pray and ritually 'beat' particular landmarks with sticks.
- The Netherlands.
Government offices, schools, banks and many businesses are usually closed in countries where Ascension Day is a public holiday. Public transport services may run on weekend schedules in some countries that observe Ascension Day as a public holiday.
Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian festivals dating back to the year 68. According to the New Testament in the Bible, Jesus Christ met several times with his disciples during the 40 days after his resurrection to instruct them on how to carry out his teachings. It is believed that on the 40th day he took them to the Mount of Olives, where they watched as he ascended to heaven.
Ascension Day marks the end of the Easter season and occurs ten days before Pentecost. Depending upon the phases of the moon in a particular year, Ascension Day is celebrated on a Thursday. However, some churches, particularly in the United States, celebrate it on the following Sunday.
Many Eastern Orthodox churches calculate the date of Pascha (Easter) according to the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used by many western churches, so their Ascension Day usually occurs after the western observance.
Ascension Day celebrations include processions symbolizing Christ’s entry into heaven and, in some countries, chasing a “devil” through the streets and dunking it in a pond or burning it in effigy – symbolic of the Messiah’s triumph over the devil when he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
In England, eggs laid on Ascension Day are said to never go bad and will guarantee good luck for a household if placed in the roof. In Devon, it was an ancient belief that the clouds always formed into the familiar Christian image of a lamb on Ascension Day. If the weather is sunny on Ascension Day, the summer will be long and hot. If it rains on the day, crops will do badly and livestock will suffer from disease. According to Welsh superstition, it is unlucky to do any work on Ascension Day.
In Portugal, Ascension Day is associated with wishes for peace and prosperity. Traditionally, in rural communities, people make bouquets from olive branches and sheaves of wheat with poppies and daisies. The olive and wheat are symbolic of abundant harvest; the poppy stands for peace and the daisy for money. Wheat is kept in the house throughout the coming year as a symbol of prosperity.
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