Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of the


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Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of the (Lady Day)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: March 25
Where Celebrated: Britain, Europe, United States, and by Roman Catholics and Anglicans around the world
Symbols and Customs: Dove, Lady Day Cakes, Lily
Related Holidays: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of the

ORIGINS

The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated by Christians worldwide. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

The Feast of the Annunciation celebrates the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, announcing that she was going to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Although the Christian church began commemorating this occasion early on, the exact date could not have been fixed until the date of CHRISTMAS was established in the late fourth century, since the two holidays obviously had to be nine months apart. Some scholars believe that the Feast of the Annunciation was established to curb the wild behavior associated with an ancient spring festival held in Rome around this same time of year.

According to tradition, Mary of Nazareth was living in her parents' home at the time. Although she had made a vow that she would never marry, Jewish custom decreed that she and her sister should marry young Jewish men so the family wealth could be handed down. Distressed by the thought that she might be forced into a marriage she did not want, Mary was overjoyed to discover what lay in store for her. Not only could she keep her vow, but it would not prevent her from fulfilling her role as the most important mother in all of Christianity.

The name of this feast has changed over the years. Roman Catholics now call it the "Annunciation of the Lord," while Orthodox Christians refer to it as the "Annunciation of the Mother of God." Anglicans call it the "Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary." The English call March 25 "Lady Day of March," since there are four other feast days that qualify as Lady Days in the Christian calendar: The Purification of Mary (also known as CANDLEMAS), commemorating Mary's presentation of her son in the Temple at Jerusalem on February 2; the Visitation on July 2, commemorating Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth; the Nativity of Mary on September 8; and the Immaculate Conception on December 8. According to an old tradition, the crucifixion of Jesus took place on March 25, and as a result it was considered unlucky if EASTER and Lady Day coincided. The English had a rhyme that said, "If Our Lord falls in Our Lady's lap/England will meet with great mishap." Those who cling to this belief point to 1910, when the two holidays coincided and King Edward VII died soon after.

In many European countries, the Feast of the Annunciation is a day for weather predictions. In Belgium, for example, traditional beliefs hold that all seeds sown on this day are guaranteed to germinate. Although an Italian proverb says that frost on March 25 will do no harm, a French proverb says it will bring disaster to the fields. There is also a saying that rain on Lady Day will mean rain on all the other feast days dedicated to the Virgin Mary throughout the year.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Dove

The white dove symbolizes purity, in part because of lore, which held that the devil could transform himself into any bird except the dove. After observing the traditional forty-day period of purification following the birth of Jesus, Mary Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of the

brought her son to the Temple at Jerusalem, where two doves were offered as a sacrifice. In Christian art, a dove also appears sometimes on the top of Joseph's rod to show that he was chosen to be Mary's husband. Because Jesus instructed his followers to be "innocent as doves," the doves often seen on gravestones symbolize the innocence of the person buried there.

The most important use of the dove, however, is as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In medieval paintings of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary is usually shown kneeling or seated at a table, reading. The Holy Spirit is seen descending toward her in the form of a dove. The dove usually appears within a beam of light striking Mary's ear. The light is symbolic of God, who separated light from darkness on the first day of Creation. In medieval times, the ear was believed to house the memory.

Lady Day Cakes

In the English town of St. Albans, Lady Day is associated with the baking of special cakes. According to legend, a lady was traveling with her attendants when she lost her way near St. Albans. The lights from the monastery tower, located on a hill, guided her party to safety. To show her gratitude, she gave the monks of the abbey a sum of money to provide free cakes in the shape of ladies, to be distributed on March 25. The cakes were later called "Pope Ladies," a term that probably originated after the Reformation.

Lily

The lily has traditionally symbolized purity, innocence, and virginity, and for Christians it became both a symbol and attribute of the Virgin Mary. Together with the DOVE , the lily is associated with the Annunciation. In Christian art, Gabriel, the angel who appeared to Mary at the Annunciation, is usually shown holding a lily, as are Joseph and his parents, Anne and Joachim.

According to legend, the lily sprang from the tears of Eve when she was expelled from the Garden of Eden. The large white lily known as the Madonna Lily is sacred to the Virgin Mary and is said to have been yellow until she bent down to pick it.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. New York: Meridian Books, 1994. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Hole, Christina. English Custom & Usage. 1941. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Olderr, Steven. Symbolism: A Comprehensive Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986. Rest, Friedrich. Our Christian Symbols. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1954. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

WEB SITES

Gospel Communications International www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201:26-55&version=31

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/01542a.htm