Friday, August 15, 2008

Ferragosto = Assumption Day

courtesy of Ottorino Pianigiani's etymological dictionary

There are so many Catholic holidays around here, it's hard to be interested in all of them. Today is another one: it's Assumption Day, the day that Mary ascended into heaven. (Jesus' takes place sometime in the spring but is called Ascension Day, I do not know why.) Apparently this holiday ranks higher than Easter in some regions of southern Italy, where holy week-type processions honoring the holy mother abound. It's definitely a big vacation holiday; half the news reports last night were about how and where Italians vacation. Seriously, they spent most of the broadcast interviewing tan women in bikinis and buff men drinking fruity drinks at the beachside bar. 

Anyway, I was interested to find that Assumption Day was not declared official dogma until 1950 – "the moment appointed in the plan of divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary" (source: The Vatican's snazzy web site). They make no mention of how they came to choose this day, but it already happened to be a holiday – ferragosto – which has been observed since the time of Augustus, celebrating what else but fertility and harvestime. (Unclear to me why permanently connecting the holy mother and fertility seemed like a good idea.) I guess they got a lot of support letters.

We are celebrating this one in Swiss style, i.e., holing up in our apartment with the blinds closed. It's actually rainy and cold so even if there were a raucous festival in piazza, which there's not, I'm not sure if we'd be attending anyway. 

n.b. "It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul."  (Pope Pius XII)


Lee said...

wait... virgin mary & fertility? I suppose she must have been exceptionally fertile to have managed to get preggers without shagging, but... mm. that's not the point of it, is it?

Swiss Ms. said...

hmm... interesting point. Maybe Pope Pius wasn't totally off his rocker.

Related: A few years back the Vatican supported an Italian law which restricts medically assisted fertility. Supporters put the Virgin on a sign reading "Assisted fertility works." (NYT article). So maybe I am thinking about this the wrong way....