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Assumption of Mary

Assumption of Mary 2018 and 2019

Assumption of Mary, or simply “Assumption Day,” is a public holiday in Spain and a major religious festival for the predominantly Catholic country. It is the most important Marian fest day on the calendar, and is celebrated on August 15th.

YearDateDayHolidayAutonomous Communities
201815 AugWedAssumption of MaryNational
201915 AugThuAssumption of MaryNational
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The holiday is based on the belief that the body of Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not undergo decay but was immediately transported to Heaven and reunited there with her soul. The holiday has been kept since the 4th Century A.D., as an attempt to replace an earlier pagan harvest festival. This is why it is still called the “Feast of Our Lady of the Harvest” is certain regions of Europe. However, it was not until 1950 that the doctrine of the assumption of Mary was declared Catholic dogma by Pope Pious XII, and the Assumption Day has only been widely celebrated in Spain since the 1700’s.

There is some dispute among Catholics as to whether or not Mary actually died before being assumed. Prominent Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott wrote in his classic book on Church dogma that she did die and that this was proclaimed by both the Church Fathers and by Roman Catholic liturgies. He goes on to explain, however, that her death was not a punishment for sin as with other human beings but was “fitting” since her son, Jesus, also suffered death. Many Roman Catholics, however, disagree and insist she escaped death entirely. The official Church statement leaves the questions somewhat open, only saying her assumption came after she had “completed the course of her earthly life”.

In Spain, Assumption Day is usually referred to as “El Dia de la Virgen de la Paloma”. “Paloma” is a female name that comes from the Latin term for “dove,” which can symbolise peace or the Holy Spirit. Thus, the role the Spirit may have had in assuming Mary’s body or the peace (or hope of peace, at least) she is thought to have secure for others by her assumption to heavenly glory seem to be in view.

The celebrations begin in Spain on August 11th and culminate on August 15th, a large street party in Madrid being the highlight. Throughout Spain, you will find fairs, parades with marching bands, kids’ games, foot races through the public streets, dancing, costume contests, and general family fun.

Also look for delicious sweets, especially churros, a fried pastry that is dipped in chocolate or coffee. Also enjoy paella, a special rice dish from the Valencian region of Spain that often contains meats such as rabbit, chicken, or seafood.

If in Spain for Assumption of Mary day, her are a few ideas on what to do:

  • Join in the festivities in Madrid. You will see the men dressed up in their traditional “chulapo” suits, white shirts, black pants, and “newspaper boy style hats.” The women will wear their finest, most colourful dresses. There will be parades in honour of Mary, numerous activities, and flowers, banners, and other decorations on houses and along the streets.
  • Throughout Spain, look for opera houses where the “Zarzuela Operetta” will be performed. The music is traditional Spanish and special for this time of year, and many locals will be keen to audition for a part.
  • Attend a Catholic mass at any local church. Services are often held on an hourly basis throughout the day, and they culminate in a procession of an image of the Virgin Mary through the streets. Churches will then stay open all night and welcome all visitors.