Traditions - General Info

Ascension Thursday – French Public Holiday

This page was updated on: Sunday, January 5, 2020 at: 10:25 am

Ascension - Origins and facts

Ascension  - Ascension Thursday or Holy Thursday - is an important Christian celebration in France.

The only original texts referring to the 'Ascension of Jesus' are found in two writings of St Luke, his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

The theme of the 'ascent', however, takes its roots in very ancient traditions and were adapted in Greek and Roman mythology.

For example, Zeus, the father of all Greek gods, transported Heracles on Mount Olympus, the seat of the Twelve Olympian Gods. Heracles therefore did not die but became a semi-god.

The legend of Romulus, one of the legendary founders of Rome, also uses the 'theme of the ascent'. He didn't die either, but was taken to heaven where he became the God of the Romans and Rome.

The Church of Rome couldn't eradicate all these beliefs, as they were deeply rooted in popular traditions. It therefore retained and converted them in order to fit the new faith.

Ascension Thursday

Ascension Thursday, a French public holiday

One of the many changes made during the French Revolution was the separation of Church and State in 1795.

Emperor Napoleon re-established the Catholic Church as the state religion with the agreement known as Concordat of 1801.

This agreement was replaced by the Act of separation of the Church and the French State  adopted on December 9, 1905. This act established State secularism in France.

In other words, it defined the neutrality of the French State and the freedom of religious worship, and the public powers related to the Church.

Ascension Thursday was therefore officially declared Public Holiday in France in 1905.

Amazingly, some basic elements of the Concordat of 1801 are amazingly still in force in Moselle-Alsace. This eastern region of France was indeed still part of the German Empire, when the agreement was signed.

Ascension Thursday, a religious celebration

The Ascension is a fixed celebration that always takes place on Thursday, 40 days after the Resurrection of Jesus.

It follows the Crucifixion of Jesus on Holy Friday and His resurrection three days after his death. It marks the elevation of Jesus to God and the end of His presence on Earth.

The Ascension of Jesus took place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Jesus blessed his apostles before rising into the sky. He also told them that he will always be present, however, in an invisible manner by means of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is celebrated on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter.

In France Ascension Day is usually part of a bank holiday weekend.

Most public services are closed from Thursday to Sunday. Many offices and shops are closed on Friday or run minimum service because of the reduced number of employees.

It is best to visit their websites for further information.

Ascension dates:  21 May 2020 - 13 May 2021

N.B. Dates for all the French public holidays

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Church mural
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