Well dressing on Ascension Day,
May 11, 1899
(Tissington, Derbyshire, England)
Dating back as early as the year 68 CE,
Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian festivals. 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.
In some countries (e.g. Austria, Belgium,
Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, the Netherlands,
Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Vanuatu) it is a public holiday; Germany also
holds its Father's Day on the same date.
Advertisement of a Western church
The 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
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.
Certain customs were connected with the
liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration
of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, afterwards
done on Rogation Days, the blessing of a candle, the wearing of mitres by deacon
and subdeacon, the extinction of the paschal candle, and triumphal processions
with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ
The antiquarian Daniel Rock records the
English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing
the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize
the triumph of Christ in his ascension over the evil one (and can also be interpreted
by analogy as the triumph of England over Wales).
In some churches the scene of the Ascension
was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through
an opening in the roof of the church. In others, whilst the figure of Christ
was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.
Coinciding with the liturgical feast
is the annual commemoration by the Christian labour movement (especially syndical,
in Belgium) of the encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by the Roman Catholic Pope
Leo XIII on May 15, 1891.
Very recently Ascension day has become
an annual celebration for those who practice the Ishayas' Ascension; a form
of meditation said to have been taught by Jesus. On this day the ascenders take
part in a twelve hour group meditation.