Ascension Thursday (in 2012 it falls on May 17) is a catholic religious day that is celebrated throughout Portugal with local traditions. It always falls on a Thursday about 40 days after Easter Sunday. It is also known as the Thursday of the Ear (or stalk) of Grains (usually wheat). Early in the morning young boys and girls go into the fields to pick the wheat stalks and other wild flowers. They put together a bunch of flowers with the ear of wheat, branches of olive trees, marigolds and poppy flowers. This bunch may also include ears of rye and barley, oats, rosemary and daisies. On this day they hang this bunch of flowers behind the door to be replaced the following year.
Each plant symbolizes a wish:
The Flowers – may there be happiness and joy (symbolized by the bright colors of the flowers: marigold represents gold and silver; poppy represents love and a long life and rosemary represents health and strength)
In stormy days people would burn a little bit of the branches in their fireplaces to keep the lightning away.
This is a tradition mostly from the center and south of Portugal. It has possibly a mixed religious and pagan origin. Religious: The May Blessings to the first fruits of the year. Pagan: Traditions connected to the celebrations to the goddess Flora-Festival of the Maias and Maios, which I may address in a separate post.
Nowadays in the large cities this tradition is not followed anymore as it is unlikely one can find fields of wheat or other cereals.
I do remember this day being celebrated with a modified tradition- bread freshly baked on this particular day is kept in a cloth bag and hidden in a dark cupboard. The following year that bread is eaten and replaced with new bread. The amazing thing is that this bread after one year is hard but has no mold. I remember my family doing this every year and I tried it several times with bread from other days and after a few days it would mold, but bread made on this particular day never did.
So may you all have a wonderful Thursday tomorrow, with peace, light, food, joy and abundance!