Catholic Activity: Feast of the Annunciation: Origin and Traditions
Father Weiser from The Holyday Book explains the origin of the Solemnity and some of the traditions related to this day.
Nine months before Christmas Day, December 25, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord.
This is another Solemnity that ordinarily falls during Lent. The Gloria and Nicene Creed are prayed during the Liturgy of the Mass. During the creed at the words "By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" we kneel. This day celebrates the actual Incarnation of Christ, the day the Son of God became man when Mary spoke her Fiat, or "yes" to God. St. Luke records the events:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.In central Europe the popular name for this feast is the "Feast of Swallows" since the swallows return on or around this day from their migration. In Austria the ancient saying refers to this:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"
And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
When Gabriel does the message bring Return the swallows, comes the spring.Perhaps because of this Europeans in the Middle Ages viewed swallows as holy birds, calling them "God's birds" in Hungary, "Mary's birds" in Austria and Germany. No one would destroy the swallows or their nests. Father Francis Weiser explains more traditions on this feast day:
It was an ancient custom of the papal Curia (executive office) to start the year on March 25 in all their communications and documents, thus calling it the "Year of the Incarnation." This practice was also adopted by most civil governments for the legal dating of documents. In fact, the Feast of the Annunciation, called "Lady Day," marked the beginning of the legal year in England even after the Reformation, up to 1752.... In Russia priests would bless large wafers of wheat flour and present them to the faithful after the service. Returning home, the father would hand a small piece of the wafer to each member of his family and to the servants. They received it with a deep bow and ate it in silence. Later on in the day they took the remaining crumbs of the "Annunciation bread" out into the fields and buried them in the ground as a protection against blight, hail, frost, and drought.
In central Europe the farmers put a picture representing the Annunciation in the barrel that holds the seed grain. While doing so they pronounce some ancient prayer rhyme like this one from upper Austria:
O Mary, Mother, we pray to you; Your life today with fruit was blessed: Give us the happy promise, too, That our harvest will be of the best. If you protect and bless the field, A hundredfold each grain must yield.Having thus implored the help of Mary, they start sowing their summer grains on the following day, assured that no inclement weather will threaten their crops, for, as the ancient saying goes,
Saint Gabriel to Mary flies: This is the end of snow and ice.
Activity Source: Holyday Book, The by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956