What is Ascension Day and how is it celebrated?

·2-min read
The crucifixion of Jesus is remembered in the Philippines (Reuters)
The crucifixion of Jesus is remembered in the Philippines (Reuters)

It is not the most observed occasion on the Christian calendar, but Ascension Day is considered one of the most important.

The Feast of the Ascension, as it has also been known, is the conclusion of the Easter story and an important turning point in the New Testament.

The day celebrates events that were documented in the Bible book of Acts 1 and the only time Jesus appears beyond the four Gospels.

This is the history of Ascension Day and why Christians celebrate it.

What is Ascension Day?

The occasion marks Jesus ascending to Heaven having already risen from the grave at the end of the Gospel accounts.

Ascension also celebrates the passing of the Holy Spirit from Jesus to his followers for early Christians to carry on his work.

Acts 1, the fifth book of the New Testament, states: “And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth’. Now when he had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight..."

Events are also hinted at in the Gospel of Luke and the longer version of the Gospel of Mark.

It is considered a feast day within the Christian church. And, while it is not a public holiday in the UK, it is a day off in Germany — where it is called Christi Himmelfahrt.

In the UK, it is marked in traditional churches but in a generally more understated celebration compared with Christmas and Easter.

When is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day is always 40 days after Easter Sunday and falls in 2023 on May 18. Sometimes it is called Holy Thursday.

It is not a celebration in Islam as Muslims believe Jesus — who they consider a prophet rather than the son of God — ascended to Heaven without being crucified.