Catholic Activity: August 15: Assumption Day Traditions
The Feast of the Assumption, known in the Eastern church as the "Falling Asleep of the All Holy Mother of God" (or Dormition), marks one of the defined dogmas of the church. Feast Day Cookbook describes the charming customs from so many countries surrounding this day, including Poland, Italy, Portugal and France.
The great feast of this month is that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin — the Day of the Great Lady, as it is called by a saint whose feast also comes in August: Stephen, the first king of Hungary. In the Orthodox Church the feast is known as the Falling Asleep of the All Holy Mother of God.
This is not only Mary's greatest festival, but one of her oldest, for belief that she was taken up bodily into heaven after her death goes back to the early Christian ages, even though only recently has it been defined as a dogma of faith. "How shall Paradise not take her up who brought life to all mankind?" asks Saint Augustine, speaking of it as an accepted belief in his day.
Everywhere the day has its charming customs. In Eastern countries all women bearing the name of Mary, or a name derived from one of her attributes, keep open house in Our Lady's honor and welcome all who come.
In Poland the day is known as the Feast of Our Lady of Herbs, for the peasants take to church sweet-smelling bouquets of their finest blossoms mixed with the green of herbs. And Poles in America also honor the feast as that of Our Lady of Flowers; at church children sing hymns both in Polish and English, and later to the lively music of a polonaise the grown-ups swing into the dances of their motherland.
In many parts of Italy, the statue of Our Lady is carried in procession through the streets to the cathedral or church. And in Siena there takes place a noted race called the Palio (Standard) in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin. This race is held in the splendid public square of the city, shaped like a scallop shell and surrounded by ancient and beautiful buildings draped with banners for the occasion. Each ward or parish sends to the race a horse, which is first taken past the cathedral door to receive the bishop's blessing. The medieval costumes of the pages and grooms, of the captain and standard bearers, the furious race of the bareback riders around the stone-paved square, the crowds of onlookers from adjoining streets and balconies, make of this a memorable occasion. The winning parish or ward carries on a celebration after the race. Scaloppine al Marsala is the appropriate dish for Italians.
In Portugal the Romeria, as the festival held on the Assumption is called, is marked with the playing of a brass band and of drums and bagpipes. And the statues of Mary, Queen of the Angels, are crowned in the churches.
In Armenia there is the Blessing of the Grapes on the Sunday nearest the feast of the Assumption. Great trays of the fruit are brought into the churches, and after they are blessed each member of the congregation carries a bunch home. Feasts are held in the vineyards, and at this time the first grapes of the season are eaten.
In France August 15th is in general a day for parties and excursions into the country. At Quimper in Brittany, there is held the Feast of the Soul, dedicated to Mary as the great consoler. It is here considered a day for betrothals, when young men and women come to ask her blessing on their future. The image of the Virgin is placed at the church door during the day, and at night carried into the village square, later to be returned in procession to her shrine. Then to the light of bonfires and the music of bagpipes, the young people dance and make merry. A Quimper specialty is Crevettes à la Béchamel (Shrimps with Bechamel Sauce).
Activity Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951