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Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception 2017 and 2018

Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic holy day and a public holiday in Spain and in 23 other countries of the world. Neither Protestant nor East Orthodox churches celebrate this feast, though some Anglicans do, making them the “exception.”

YearDateDayHolidayAutonomous Communities
20178 DecFriImmaculate ConceptionNational
20188 DecSatImmaculate ConceptionNational

The holiday falls on December 8th every year and is often thought of as the beginning of the Christmas season in Spain. It is also near Spain’s Constitution Day, which comes on December 6th, and many take both of these holidays and the intervening day off to form a long weekend. Many businesses close for Immaculate Conception, and schools shut down, so the streets are filled with both adults and children who are in a celebratory mood.

The basis of the holiday is the Catholic belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was herself born sinless. More specifically, the doctrine states that she was born “without any stain of original sin.” The date, December 8th, is exactly nine months before the Nativity of Mary on September 8th, which celebrates the birth of the one believed to be conceived without sin.

From early tradition, it is taken that Mary’s mother was Anne, now “Saint Anne,” and that her father was named Joachim. An angel is said to have appeared to Mary’s parents and informed them they would have a daughter whom “the world would honour.” It is also said that Saint Anne had earlier been childless and that she pledged Mary to God’s service from her birth.

The first celebrations of Immaculate Conception date at least to the 8th Century A.D., though earlier traditions were already developing concerning Mary being conceived without sin. Controversy, however, swirled around the issue for centuries until 1854, when Pope Pius IX settled the issue for Roman Catholics.

Special masses will be held on or near December 8th in Catholic Spain, and you will see images of Mary being paraded through the streets. There may also be fireworks displays and various cultural events at this time of year. Predominantly, however, Immaculate Conception is a family day in Spain, so you will see many families out walking and spending the day together.

Should you tour the land of Spain for Immaculate Conception day, here are some ideas on what to do:

  • Attend a special mass at any local Catholic church, along a procession in which Marian floats will be heavily decorated with flowers and candles. Look for cultural costumes and many accompanying events.
  • If in Valencia, look to see “Las Clavariesas” in the celebrations. These are young girls who devote themselves to join the “Sisterhood of the Daughters of Mary” and serve for a year in a local parish. They help raise money to pay for Immaculate Conception festivities each year. You will recognise them by their black gowns and their high, black-lace head coverings held up by a hair comb.
  • In Seville, visit the Seville Cathedral to see the Dance of the Sixes, besides the usual celebrations. This festive dance is done inside the cathedral, near the altar, and has been performed since the 1400’s.
  • See the Christmas lights and decorations, along with the Christmas markets, in the major cities. Especially consider touring the Fira de Santa Llucia Christmas market right next to Barcelona Cathedral. It is a popular place to buy sweets for young children and get a head start on some Christmas shopping. Also be sure to see the numerous nativity scenes, sometimes in special buildings, sometimes in public squares, and sometimes at the Christmas markets.

In Spain, Immaculate Conception is an integral part of the overall Christmas season and a day of great religious significance to many of the nation’s devout Catholics.