This year, Ascension Day will be celebrated on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

The day is a public holiday throughout Germany.

But unlike Christmas and Easter, very few people know what this church holiday is actually about.

Better known, however, is Father's Day, which is also celebrated on this day in Germany - usually with a lot of alcohol.

But what is the origin of the festivals and what do they mean?

Why do we celebrate Ascension Day?

Catherine Whole


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The festivals in the Christian church year are based on the life of Jesus, which is reported in the four gospels in the New Testament of the Bible.

Jesus' birth is celebrated on Christmas, his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.

The Ascension of Christ is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, but it is also reported at least in passing in the Acts of the Apostles.

Luke describes the Ascension very briefly.

It says: “And it came to pass, while he was blessing them, that he left them and was taken up to heaven.” The book of Acts says: “When he had said this, he was taken up before their eyes, and a cloud took him up and took him out of their sight.”

There has only been a separate Ascension Festival since the 4th century.

Previously it was celebrated together with the resurrection of Christ at Easter.

Ascension Day has only been widespread since the 5th century.

What happened on Ascension Day?

The image of Jesus ascending to heaven on a cloud is often the subject of fine art and church painting.

In theology, however, Christ's ascension is not understood as a real journey.

Rather, it symbolizes the fact that Jesus no longer dwells on earth as a human being, but that the risen Jesus Christ “is with God”.

So heaven is not a geographical place.

This becomes clearer in the English language, for example.

The geographical sky is called "sky" there, the biblical one is translated as "heaven".

In the Christian faith, the Ascension is the explanation for the fact that Jesus is alive but is no longer with his disciples in physical form.

Rather, it is his spirit, the Holy Spirit, believe Christians, who is still among them today.

Why is Ascension Day always on a Thursday?

Ascension Day is always celebrated 40 days after Easter, i.e. on the 39th day after Easter Sunday.

The reason: The Bible says that Jesus Christ showed himself to the apostles for 40 days after his resurrection on Easter before he ascended into heaven.

The Ascension Day can therefore have a different date from year to year, but always falls on a Thursday.

How do Christians celebrate the Ascension?

Ascension Day is a special holiday, especially in the Catholic Church.

As early as the Middle Ages, a Jesus figure was pulled up on a rope through a hole in the ceiling in many churches during services.

From this "Holy Spirit hole" it then rained flowers, holy images and sometimes also "burning work", mostly burning flax, which was supposed to represent the fiery tongues of the Holy Spirit.

However, this custom has become rare and, according to the Archdiocese of Cologne, is only practiced occasionally in southern Germany and Tyrol.

As reported by the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, it was sometimes customary to throw a devil figure out of the vaulted sky, which was then beaten by the congregation.

This fall to heaven or hell was intended to symbolically show the end of the reign of evil.

Jesus was thus able to ascend the heavenly throne to which he was entitled.

It was also widespread that Christians only eat poultry, “flying meat”, on this day, so that the ascension of Christ was also commemorated at home.

Another custom used to be the so-called prayer days in the week before Ascension Day.

During these days of prayer and procession, farmers asked God for a fruitful harvest and protection from storms.

In addition to processions, services in parish gardens, forests and on mountains are also common today.

Where is Ascension Day a public holiday?

Not only in Germany are daycare centers, schools, offices and shops closed on Ascension Day.

The day is also a public holiday in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Denmark, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Namibia, Madagascar, Indonesia, Haiti and Colombia.

In Liechtenstein and Switzerland, the day is also called "Ascent".

Where Ascension Day is not a public holiday, the church moves it to the following Sunday.

This is the case, for example, in Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic.

In Germany, the day has been a public holiday since the 1930s.

Why is Father's Day on Ascension Day?

Ascension Day is known to many people as Father's Day.

In East Germany it is also known as Herrentag or Men's Day.

Men celebrate this day in a boozy way and trek through the countryside with handcarts, arrange to go on bike, hiking or pub tours.

Opinions differ as to whether Father's Day has its origins in the Ascension of Christ.

The custom is said to have its roots in both Christian and pagan culture.

According to the Archdiocese of Cologne, in addition to the prayer days, hall walks were also common in the week before Ascension Day.

They should commemorate the journey of the disciples to the Mount of Olives, where they said goodbye to Jesus.

The outings on Father's Day could therefore go back to this walk of the disciples.

The roots of this custom could also be traced back to a Germanic legal practice.

According to this, landowners had to walk around their property once a year in order to maintain the right to it.

The Father's Day hike could also result from this.

Another explanation relates to a changed social structure at the time of industrialization in the late 19th century.

Many men moved from the country to the city to work there.

Holidays in Christianity were less frequently celebrated in the context of the church, and the issue of free time increasingly came to the fore among workers.

The day off on Ascension Day was therefore a welcome opportunity to go on excursions with friends.

Why do you drink alcohol on Father's Day?

The fact that Father's Day is a boozy event is also attributed to ancient customs, among other things.

The processions, during which the field and harvest were blessed and the plots of land were legally redefined, often ended with food and drink, dancing and music.

But the happy celebration of Father's Day also has a downside: Before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, on Father's Day in 2019, according to the Federal Statistical Office, there were more accidents involving alcohol than on any other day of the year.

According to the information, people were injured in 160 of these accidents – also the highest value in 2019 in one day.

When is International Father's Day?

Father's Day is celebrated all over the world, but in different ways and on different dates.

While in this country men mainly keep to themselves on Ascension Day, the day is celebrated in a completely different way in the Netherlands, France, Turkey and many South American countries on the third Sunday in June.

Namely similar to Mother's Day: Fathers get breakfast brought to bed by their children, a poem is recited or gifts are given.

In Switzerland, Father's Day has only been celebrated unofficially since 2007 and is therefore not particularly widespread there.

The introduction goes back to the men's organization

Since 2009 it has always taken place on the first weekend in June and is also designed in a similar way to Mother's Day.