On Good Friday, Jesus died on the cross. On Easter Sunday, he came back to life. During the forty days which followed that first Easter, he kept appearing to his followers.
Ascension Day marks the last appearance of Jesus to the disciples after his resurrection at Easter. It is the 40th day after Easter Sunday and always falls on a Thursday (hence its other name Holy Thursday). Ten days later is Pentecost, which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
The name 'ascension' comes from the accounts in the Bible in Mark's Gospel and Luke's Gospel that tell of Jesus being taken up into heaven - he ascended.
Ascension Day marks the final meeting between the risen Jesus and his disciples. He told them that he would always be with them, and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost) . At Ascension, Christians celebrate the kingship of Jesus.
The fifth Sunday after Easter is called Rogation Sunday, and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that follow are known as Rogation Days. These three days usually fall in May, although the Monday can be as early as 27 April and the Wednesday as late as 2 June.
Rogationtide starts with Rogation Sunday and ends with Holy Thursday which is commonly called Ascension Day, the second Thursday before Whitsuntide.
Customs and Traditions
Ascension Day is associated across Britain with various water festivals ranging from Well Dressing in Derbyshire to the Planting of the 'Penny Hedge' (or 'Horngarth') in the harbour at Whitby, Yorkshire.
Every year, on the Eve of Ascension Day, a 'Penny (pennance) Hedge has to be errected on the beach at Boyes Staithe, near Whitby, Yorkshire. This commemorates a medieval penance imposed by the Abbot of Whitby on some local noblemen who disturbed a holy hermit at his prayers and beat him up.
The stakes and the woven twigs for the hedge have to be cut in a local wood at sunrise on Ascension Eve, carried to Whitby Harbour at low tide and made into a hedge strong enough to withstand three full tides.
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Ascension Day is also the day for Beating the Bounds, or Boundaries, of your church's parish. The custom was once found in almost every English parish but now is only carried out only in a few places.
The ceremony of Beating the Bounds custom has existed in Britain for well over 2000 years. In simple terms it involves people in the locality walking around their farm, manorial, church or civil boundaries pausing as they pass certain trees, walls and hedges that denote the extent of the boundary to exclaim, pray and ritually 'beat' particular landmarks with sticks. In some places it was quite normal to bump on the boundary marker a child so that locations would be 'sorely remembered'. In London, a school boy is held upside down by his feet from a boat in the river Thames where there is a boundary!
Shoppers at Oxford's Marks and Spencers on Ascension Day are surprised when a troop of choristers, academics and visitors enter the lingerie department and proceed to beat a spot on the carpet with long canes, yelling "Mark! Mark! Mark!" The store was built directly over the boundary of the parish of St Michael's. There are 31 one other venues in the city and others include the Town Hall, Boots the Chemist, the inside of a bike shop and a pub!. The day finishes with a drink of ivy beer, doughnuts and a scramble for hot pennies thrown from the roof of Lincoln College.
Church of St Michael at the Northgate
One of the reasons was to establish one's actual boundaries and to check the land in general, as maps were scarce and many parishioners could not read or write.
Mark, from East Sussex, wrote to tell us about his memories of Ascension Day:
"I attended prep school at Hurstpierpoint College (1988-1992). On Ascension Thursday all of the main school (aged 13-18) would walk out of school through the village, and "ascend" Wolstonbury (aka "Danny") Hill. There was Communion followed by the Lowe's Dole, £1, (from a benefactor's gift). The Dole was distributed to all those who had served the chapel in the past year - choir (although in the prep school, I was a treble in the Senior School Choir, hence my participation), organist, sacristans, even the organist and director of music. We would then race down Danny Hill, through the village and back to the Tuck Shop, to spend our £1... which for an 11 yr old in 1990 bought a lot of sweets!!"
Eggs laid on Ascension day are said to never go bad and will guarantee good luck for a household if placed in the roof.
In Devon, it was an ancient belief that the clouds always formed into the familiar Christian image of a lamb on Ascension Day.
If the weather is sunny on Ascension Day, the summer will be long and hot; but if it rains, crops will do badly and livestock, especially cattle, will suffer from disease.
According to Welsh superstition, it is unlucky to do any work on Ascension Day.