The Feast of the Assumption of Mary (Mariae Himmelfahrt, Mariä Aufnahme in den Himmel) is celebrated in some states in Germany on August 15 each year. It is a public holiday in Saarland and some parts of Bavaria. Many Catholics attend special church services and some people collect herbs as a tradition for the day. The fourth ecumenical council was held in Chalcedon, now part of Istanbul, Turkey, in 451 CE. The council decided that the Assumption of Mary would be recognized as a Christian feast. This feast is important for Catholics because it marks the moment that Mary’s body and soul went to heaven, according to Catholic belief. The date was fixed as August 15 sometime around the year 700 CE.
It’s also a massive Orthodox holiday – having a liturgy ordaining her setting into a grave similar to the one of Christ.
What Do People Do?
Many Catholics attend special church services where church bells ring to announce the start of these services. Where two churches are near, the church bells may be sounded in unison. Religious parades and summer festivals are held in some areas on August 15. In Romania, where this is celebrated as one of the biggest events of the year, people go to church and circle the church while holding the Virgin Mary banners.
There are special traditions about trees and plants on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. The first ripe walnuts or hazelnuts are called Mary’s nuts (Mariennuesse) and are given to children. People may go out into the fields and meadows to collect herbs with medicinal and culinary properties.
Für jenes Kräuterbündel sind sieben Hauptkräuter vorgesehen: Arnika, Johanniskraut, Kamille, Königskerze, Salbei, Spitzwegerich und Wermut. Diesen sieben Kräutersorten werden weitere Kräuter beigefügt, so dass sich die Anzahl zu einer magischen Zahl summiert: 9, 12, 15 oder 19. Die Verbindung zur Jungfrau Maria erklärt sich aus einer Legende, die besagt, dass das leere Grab Marias einen Kräuterduft ausgeströmt habe. Auch ein Beiname der Mutter Gottes, die in alt-christlichen Gebeten „Blume des Feldes und Lilie der Täler“ genannt wird, stützt den Brauchtum der Kräuterweihe am Feiertag Mariä Himmelfahrt.
For the herbal bundle, seven main herbs are provided: arnica, St. John’s wort, chamomile, king’s candle, sage, Ribwort Plantain and vermouth. These seven herbs are accompanied by other herbs, so that the number adds up to a magical number: 9, 12, 15 or 19. The connection to the Virgin Mary is explained by a legend that says that the empty grave of Mary had expelled a herbal fragrance. There is also a sermon of the Virgin, which is called in ancient Christian prayers “flower of the field and lily of the valleys”, supports the custom of the herbs in the holiday of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.
Popular herbs to collect are:
- St John’s wort.
Some herbs are placed by alters and others are fixed to the walls of houses and stalls.
- People went to the graves of their ancestors and made the place holy again by burning incense. They would also take grapes, prunes, honey to church and give them to people.
- The men would change their summer hats with the more woollier caps. The people who would wear a hat after the 15th of August would be ridiculed
- Wedding season is now open!
- Autumn harvest would begin
What you shouldn’t do
There are some customs in certain parts of the world (some of them in my home country of Romania) that advise you on certain things you should not do:
- Wash clothes – They warn you with life-long bad luck
- Trim your hair – This goes for both men and women. Those who do will go bald 🙂
- Close your door – they say that the Virgin Mary needs an open door to enter people’s houses
- Go for a dip – Those lovely mountain rivers that you like dipping in are a no-no today.
- Sleep on the porch!
August 15 is a public holiday in the German states of Saarland and Bavaria (some parts). Post offices, banks, stores and other businesses are closed in these areas. Some stores in tourist areas may be open and stores at railway stations, airports and along highways are usually open. Public transport services vary depending on where one lives or plans to travel. The Feast of the Assumption of Mary is not a public holiday in other parts of Germany on August 15.
Paintings or other artworks depicting Mary’s assumption often depict Jesus or God, representing heaven, at the top. Notable early Christians or other people are usually in the lower part of the paintings and represent life on earth. These paintings show Mary making her journey to heaven. She may be accompanied by angels or cherubs who serve as her guides.