Some early Autumn Church Festivals

First of all, welcome back from your holidays.  The Board is busy trying to get the necessary permissions for us to worship in a new venue.  Stay tuned for further information.

Those of us from Western countries may think of “summer” as June, July and August.  Or we may think of “summer” as whenever there is hot weather.  In China, the season is set not by the weather, but by the positions of the stars and planets.

Autumn in China begins halfway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox, on August 7 or 8th and is called “li qiu,”  which means “the beginning of fall.”  So in China, Autumn is already here.  I am in Rhode Island at the moment, grateful for the cooler weather and the racket of the geese honking as they fly south in V-formation.

We have just passed August 15, one of the early church’s autumn holidays with a long history dating back to the 300s.  This is the day the church celebrates the assumption of Mary into heaven.  The “assumption” of Mary into heaven means that Mary was “taken” into heaven both in body and in soul.    Whether she was really taken into heaven in body as well as soul or not, it can also be taken in a more abstract way, that the mother of Jesus was special and blessed.

The celebration of the festival of the Assumption in the early church was fascinating.  The people would bring their herbs and fruits to the church to be blessed.   Also called “Our Lady’s Herb Day”, central European Christians would bring medicinal herbs, periwinkle, verbena, thyme, to be blessed at the church.  Then they would be wound into a sheaf which was thought to bring them protection for their health for the coming year.

The assumption was the start of what people then called “Our Lady’s Thirty Days,” which begins on the feast day and goes until September 15.  According to custom, nature is very benign during this period, snakes and wild animals do not attack or bite, and the harvested food and fruits will be especially nourishing and wholesome.

I read that this period of benevolence falls in the same period as the Jewish month of Av, and had the name of the “Weeks of Comfort.”  During this time the community is comforted over the destruction and loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, and are focused on the future, when they will have rebirth and renewal in the upcoming Jewish New Year which comes in September.

So there are many spiritual ideas for us to contemplate at this point in the early autumn.  We could think about the things we find are comforting, and make a list of them.   Or we could focus on our blessings in harvest food and fruits.  Even putting a simple basket of fruit on the table or giving a basket of fruit to someone who is sick would be a wonderful reminder of the fruit of good work.  In Ireland and parts of England people observe something they called “Our Lady’s Health Bathing,” when bathing in lakes, rivers, or the ocean was considered especially blessed.  For those of us with swimming pools, now would be a good time to go swimming!  Or you could go for a walk with your children and gather some grasses to put in a vase in the house as a reminder of customs of the past.

Whatever your church traditions are, a deepening happens when we study the history of our tradition and enjoy the parts that are appealing and will give us a spiritual lift.  Perhaps some of these ideas will resonate with you and you can enjoy a custom that dates back through the centuries in the Christian tradition, as many have before you.

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