May 20 Ascension Day

14th May 2004 at 01:00
This joyful Christian festival celebrates the completion of Jesus' work on earth

Outline script for assembly leader

For countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, Ascension Day is a national holiday. In Britain, people take little notice of it, but in times gone by churches would be crowded and for most schools it was a holiday.

At Easter, Christians believe Jesus returned to life after his crucifixion.

During the following weeks he appeared several times to his followers.

Then, 40 days after Easter, he led his closest friends to the top of a hill just outside Jerusalem. There (we are told), a low cloud covered the hilltop and hid him from them. When the cloud lifted he was gone.

As heaven was commonly believed to be a place above the sky, there developed the belief that he had "ascended". In some churches a statue of Jesus or a large crucifix used to be lifted high above the altar. In a few places it was hauled through a hole in the church roof and out of sight (a truly memorable visual aid). In Derbyshire, well-dressing happens at Ascension and one of the most famous ceremonies is in Tissington (pictured). The custom survives from the days before piped water and, indeed, from pre-Christian times. People "dress" or decorate springs and wells in gratitude for the gift of water. A board is covered in clay and flowers, moss, shells, twigs and fir cones are pressed into it. Nothing artificial is used in the collages and the clay is watered to keep the flowers fresh for several days.

In other places well-dressing takes place at Pentecost (Whitsun).

Follow-up

The story of the Ascension can be found in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, verses 6-12.

* Easter is preceded by the 40 days of Lent (beginning on Ash Wednesday) and followed by "the forty glorious days" leading to the Ascension. Let pupils use calendars to work out their dates. Point out to them that the Sundays in Lent do not count towards the 40 days).

* The Culham College RE website has some excellent pages on Ascension Day at www.refuel.org.ukcurricfestivalsascensionindex.html. This homepage leads to suggested activities for key stage 2 and KS3, especially in art and music.

* Create a "well-dressing" board.

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