- Ascension Day
- This marks the ascension of Christ into heaven, and being the fortieth day after Easter Sunday it always falls on a Thursday (hence its other name, Holy Thursday), though the actual date changes yearly. A custom of processing around the parish in order to invoke divine protection and to bless the crops and livestock at this time was adopted by the Church in England in the 8th century, although it had been practised on the Continent for centuries before that time. The three days before Ascension, when the processions took place, became variously known as Rogation, Processioning, Ganging (going), or Cross (from the crucifix carried) days, and the processions themselves could be quite spectacular, carrying crosses, banners, and garlands, and prayers and hymns being given at key points around the parish. There is some evidence that the Rogation customs in some areas had begun to get out of hand and were suppressed, but others continued until they were abolished by the Puritans in the 17th century. In the meantime, however, the relatively secular need for identifying and maintaining parish boundaries had become apparent, and as this became grafted on to the old religious custom, the better-known *Beat-ing the Bounds developed. In many areas, Beating the whole Bounds of a parish can take a considerable time, and it was deemed sufficient to undertake it sporadically rather than annually. For those interested in the blessing rather than the beating, smaller-scale customs evolved.Few other customs took place on Ascension Day, although some beliefs connected the Day with water. In many areas it was the day for visiting local holy *wells, either for cures (especially sore eyes) or for luck (Trans. of the Devonshire Assoc. 40 (1908), 190-2). A children's custom reported at different times of the year, under different names, involved mixing water from a particular well or spring with sugar or sweets to make a special drink. In some areas this was carried out on Ascension Day and called 'Sugar and Water Day' (see also *Easter, *elecampane, and *Spanish Sunday). Rain which fell on Ascension Day was similarly believed to be special as coming 'straight from heaven', and was collected and stored for medicinal use, and again sore eyes are mentioned regularly. In addition, the popular custom of *well-dressing occurs at Ascension in some villages. Several beliefs about the prevention of *fires had an Ascension Day slant - a piece of hawthorn gathered on the day and brought to you (i.e. not picked yourself) and hung in the rafters is reported from Staffordshire (Folk-Lore 7 (1896), 381), whereas in Nottinghamshire it was an egg laid on the day which should be placed somewhere in the roof (Jewitt, Ancient Customs and Sports of Nottinghamshire (1852)). In Shropshire, it was believed that rooks take a rest from their nest-building on Ascension Day (Burne, 1883: 218), and in Lincolnshire it was said that to hang sheets out to dry or air on this day was a sure way to bring a death to the family (compare *Good Friday, and *washing) (The Times, 8 May 1934). A belief was reported from the West Country in the 18th century (more usually linked to Easter), that the figure of a lamb could be seen in the rising sun (Gentleman's Magazine (1787), 718, quoted in Brand, 1849: i. 197).For other Ascension Day customs, see *hltnting the earl of rone, *well-dressing, whitby *penny hedge.■ Wright and Lones, 1938: i. 129-48; Brand, 1849: i. 197212; Hutton, 1996: 277-9.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.