Ascension Day is a Christian holiday celebrating Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven on the 40th day of Easter, which takes place on a Thursday. It is often marked by attending church services, prayer, and religious reflection. Some refer to the day as the Feast of the Ascension. This day is considered the last of the Easter season.
What makes the celebration of Ascension Day unique is that churches usually put on a collaborative effort. They might join forces with other churches for prayer and Ascension Day services. Another tradition is to put on a “church crawl” where observers travel to several different churches for prayer and other religious events. Or, churches may combine choirs for an augmented effect. Many observers head to social gatherings after church.
The New Testament states that after his resurrection, Jesus presented himself to the disciples several times in the 40 days before his ascension in order to tell them how to carry on his works. On Ascension Day, Jesus and the disciples went to Mount of Olives, where the sky parted and Jesus ascended to heaven.
The feast has been celebrated for more than a thousand years, though the exact time frame is unknown. It has mentions in some old religious writings, such as those by St. John Chrysostom.
- Western churches often celebrate with vigils and, within the Roman Catholic Church, it is considered a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning observers must attend Mass and focus upon their spirituality and not material objects.
- Eastern churches may hold all-night vigils. Some may also use to holiday to honor the Holy Georgian Martyrs of Persia.
- Priests may bless beans, grapes, and other fruits for the feast. Sometimes they will bless a candle.
- In England, the beginning of the procession holds a banner that displays a lion and a dragon, representing the victory of Christ.
- Venice’s tradition, called Wedding of the Sea, a naval ceremony commemorated by processions and boat fleets.
- Florence has one of the more unique customs—fireworks are placed at the entrance of the church so that a dove can slide from the high altar to the entrance on a string, igniting the fireworks.