The Ascension of Jesus is celebrated by Christian churches forty days after Easter. It always falls on a Thursday, and the Ascension Day celebration is known in France as “Jeudi de l’Ascension” (Ascension Thursday).
Ascension Day: History and Christian meaning
The word “ascension” derives from the Latin ascendere which means “to rise, to climb”. A reference to the Ascension of Jesus is found in the New Testament. On that day, Christians believe that Jesus was taken up to heaven, in the presence of eleven of his apostles, 40 days after the resurrection (Easter).
For the Christian Church, the Ascension of Jesus means the end of the physical presence of Jesus on Earth, amongst men. However, his spiritual presence remains and is celebrated on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out over Jesus’ disciples.
By the 6th century, the iconography of the Ascension in Christian art had been established, as well as the idea of a celebration. By that time, it involved a procession in Jerusalem up to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was previously arrested.
Many passages in the Gospel describe the Ascension of Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
Luke 24: 50-53
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Acts of the Apostles 1: 8-11
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”.
© New International Version (NIV)
Ascension Day in France
Today in France, the Ascension of Jesus is more often associated with a long weekend.
As in many other countries, Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, and offices, shops and schools are all closed.
The public holiday was established in 1801 by the signature of the Concordat between Napoleon and Pope Pie VII, which created four religious public holidays: Christmas, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, All Saints’ Day and Ascension Day. Therefore, as Thursday is a day off, instead of going back to work on Friday and then stopping again for the weekend, many companies and most of the schools do not open on Friday. This practice is colloquially called “Faire le pont” (making a bridge) in French. As a result, Ascension Day is much appreciated by students, especially when it comes right after the Easter holidays, as they benefit from a four-day weekend.
For example, in 2013, students from the regional education authority (académie) of Toulouse, only went back to school for two days, on Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th of May, and their week-end began on Wednesday the 8th (this is also a day off as we celebrate the Victory in Europe Day). So, in 2013, many students enjoyed a five-day weekend!
Ascension Day Dates
As the date of Easter changes from one year to another, Ascension Day does not fall on the same Thursday every year. Here are the dates for the next five years.
- 2018 May 10
- 2019 May 30
- 2020 May 21
- 2021 May 13
- 2022 May 26
Find out more about Ascension Day in France on the La Croix website [article in French]