17 May 2012


Weather: As the weather is on Ascension, so may be the weather of autumn.

If it rains on Ascension, there will be a scarcity that year and sickness among cattle.

If it is fine on Ascension, it will be wet on Whit-Monday;
If it is wet on Ascension, it will be fine on Whit-Monday.


As described by the Catholic Encyclopedia, today we celebrate "the elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power, in the presence of His disciples, the fortieth day after His Resurrection".  "...the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified."

Ascension always seems to get passed over.  There are no Ascension bunnies, no colored Ascension eggs; Catholics, for whom it is a Holy Day of Obligation, are put out because they must go to church AGAIN, and so to spare their busy lives, the celebration of the day is often moved to the following Sunday and becomes just another Sunday Mass.  But it is more than that.  It is “the completion of the work of our salvation”.  Celebrating Easter and neglecting Ascension is like reading up to the most exciting part of the book, and then never reading the closing chapters.

At one time, this was a major festival in the Church, with all the brilliant ceremonies and customs which brought light and color to ordinarily drab lives, including a form of play-acting (if you will) that established the meaning of the day in the minds of the mostly illiterate parishioners.  Birds were released to fly up and through an opening in the church’s roof, signifying the ascent of Christ to Heaven; a figure of Satan was thrown down from that same opening, and beat up by the youth of the parish (Satan’s downfall and defeat); small cakes wrapped in paper and Holy Water also rained down on the parishioners, as blessings from Heaven.

Naogeorgus reviled this popish mummery.  First the licentiousness of the Rogation Days, and now this! More Eating!  More Drinking!  More Silly Ceremonies!  And Laughter!  How Dare They Enjoy Themselves!

Then comes the day when Christ ascended to his father’s seat
Which day they also celebrate, with store of drink and meat,
Then every mans some bird must eat, I know not to what end,
And after dinner all to church they come, and there attend
The block that on the altar still till then was seen to stand,
Is drawn up high above the roof by ropes and force of hand;
The Priests about it round do stand, and chant it to the sky,
For all these men’s religion great in singing most doth lie.
Then out of hand the dreadful shape of Satan down they throw,
Oft times, with fire burning bright, and dashed asunder though,
The boys with greedy eyes do watch and on him straight they fall,
And beat him sore with rods, and break him into pieces small.
This done, they wafers down do cast, and singing Cakes the while,
With papers round amongst them put, the children to beguile.
With laughter great are all things done, and from the beams they let
Great streams of water down to fall, on whom they mean to wet.
And thus their solemn holiday, and high renowned feast,
And all their whole devotion here, is ended with a jest.


Bees show the way to church on Ascension Day.

If an egg which has been laid on Ascension Day is placed in the roof of a house, the building will be preserved from fire and other calamities.

It is unlucky to work today. [therefore, consider doing the following, instead]

If you fish from dawn to nightfall today, you will learn the hour for the best fishing, and will be a lucky angler for the next twelve months.

Bathing the eyes in rain-water caught on Ascension Day is beneficial for sore eyes.


Beans and grapes are blessed today.

Master-gardeners gave their workers a dish of baked white and grey peas with bacon for dinner.

A fowl of some kind – chicken, turkey, squab, game hen – should be on the menu today.

Villagers in the Mansfeld district of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt were commanded to drink beer today in honor of a medieval countess who “relieved them from paying their tithes”.  Hopefully, they still quaff their Ascension Beer. [Now there’s a tradition I can get behind.  Pass me my stein!]

In Germany, the day is called Himmelfahrstag.  It was customarily a "boys' day out" when the men would get together and go off into the countryside for an enjoyable day of merrymaking. "Hearty refreshments of food, beer, and wine are features of the excursions; and even if husbands return home at night a little the worse for wear, wives are not expected to complain.”

[I digress for a moment.  Wives are mostly intelligent creatures; they don't complain when it is obvious that the object in their cross-hairs cannot hear or see them, much less comprehend that trouble awaits.  Much better to wait until the following morning, when we can be the Ministering Angels from Hell, fetching aspirin and water and turning pillows and removing blankets and putting blankets back on and every five minutes asking if they are okay and if there is anything we can get for them, no really, dear, it's no trouble, I'll be right back, are you sure there isn't anything else you'd like, maybe some breakfast, I'm sure you'll feel better once you've got some eggs and bacon inside you, oh you are looking a little green, dear...]

In Venice, the Doge in his state galley, the Bucentaur, with the Venetian nobility and others in an accompanying fleet of boats, would go with great solemnity to the Adriatic Sea.  Here he would cast into the water a gold ring of great value, saying "Desponsamus te, Mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii" ("We espouse the, O Sea, in token of real and perpetual dominion over thee").  This custom is said to have started from a grant of Pope Alexander III, who gave the Venetians power over the Adriatic as a man has power over his wife.  While there is no longer a Doge (or a Bucentaur) [and we won't even touch the bit about power over the wife], the ceremony is still repeated in Venice on the first Sunday after Ascension.

While Catholics went about the parish on the preceding days, reciting prayers and litanies, after the Reformation the parish perambulations in England often took place on Ascension Day and were called "The Beating of the Bounds", during which the parish boundaries were noted and the boundary markers replaced (if they had been moved).
Benjamin West, PRA, 1801. The Ascension.  The Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum.  Swiped from Wikipedia.  [I like this one – it has movement and strength.]