Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Many Christian communities around the world annually observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. This day is a holy day of obligation in which many Christians, particularly of the Catholic faith, attend special church services for this occasion.

Detail shot of Mary from a stained glass window created in the late 1800's.
Various images depicting the Immaculate Conception often feature the Virgin Mary as a young woman.
Various images depicting the Immaculate Conception often feature the Virgin Mary as a young woman.
©iStockphoto.com/Gijs van Ouwerkerk

What Do People Do?

Many Christians around the world, particularly those of the Catholic faith, mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in their diaries and calendars. Church services (or masses) to honor this observance are held on or around December 8. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a public holiday in some places, such as Guam and Malta, so many people in these areas have a day off work or school.

Public Life

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a public holiday in places such as:

  • East Timor.
  • Guam, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
  • Italy.
  • Malta.
  • Monaco.
  • Spain.

It is not a nationwide public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States (except Guam).

Background

Theological controversy surrounded the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for centuries. However popular celebration of this holiday dates back to at least the eighth century. The argument related to the meaning of the word “immaculate”, which in this context refers to the belief that Jesus’ mother Mary was conceived without original sin, according to Christian belief.

Many theologians throughout Christian history, including St Thomas Aquinas, questioned the Immaculate Conception. It remained open for debate for many years until Pope Pius IX proclaimed it to be an essential dogma in the Catholic Church on December 8, 1854. The written document on this is known as the Ineffabilis Deus. Since then, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the belief that Mary was born without sin and that God chose her to be Jesus’ mother.  Many Anglicans in the world also hold this belief.

Symbols

Various paintings, statues and other forms of artwork have been made depicting the Immaculate Conception. They usually show Mary as a young woman dressed in white and blue. She is often standing on a hill or raised area and has a halo of stars around her head. The pieces of art may also include images of clouds, golden lights, cherubs, lilies or roses. One well-known example associated with the Immaculate Conception is a statue known as Our Lady of Camarin (Santa Marian Kamalen), which was found on the shores of Merizo in Guam more than 300 years ago.

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