Right when you think that things cannot be more ridiculous when it comes to Christianity, one comes to know about the Feast of the Ass! Up to the 15th century, the ancient Christian holiday known as the Feast of the Ass was celebrated on January 14 every year. It was predominantly observed in France as a way to honour the “Ass” that accompanied Mother Mary after the birth of Jesus Christ from Israel to Egypt. At that time, the Holy Family was attempting to flee from King Herod the Great’s execution of young infants.
It was first observed predominantly in France as a byproduct of the Feast of Fools, which commemorated biblical events involving donkeys, particularly the one onwhich the Holy Family was transported into Egypt following the birth of Jesus by a donkey.
The feast gradually vanished in the second part of the 15th century, at the same time as the Feast of Fools was outlawed. It wasn’t viewed as being as offensive as the Feast of Fools.
It is thought that the Roman pagan celebration of “Cervulus” served as the inspiration for the Feast of the Ass. On that day, a girl would ride a donkey through a town to a church. People would chant songs about her carrying a child or being pregnant as she cycled through the streets.
The donkey was fed and given water once it arrived at the church, and it then sat close to the altar for the ceremony. The congregation would “hee-haw” or bray in response to the priest, and occasionally the priest would bray as well, notably all the “asses” particularly participated in one form or the other! Northern French city Beauvais had notably boisterous Assfest celebrations.
Condemnation of The Feast of the Ass
The Feast of the Ass fell out of favour as soon it rose and was celebrated with the “asses” all around. The Catholic Church viewed it unfavourably. Accordingly, the tradition was abandoned when, near the end of the 15th century, the Catholic Church denounced the “Feast of the Ass” and “Feast of the Fools” as being “improper, excessive, and blasphemous.”
Donkeys once had significant symbolic and spiritual meaning. They are seen as the representation of human suffering and salvation in Christianity (New Testament). They have a sophisticated sense of self-preservation and are famed for their resistance.
Though a very appropriate and worthy celebration, the Feast was shut down as blasphemous and the world is left with one less ridiculous event to look upon. However, this does explain why the “ass” is such an important means in all the Christian tales and stories. They could’ve used a Horse also but we can hold back on the logic of it for some other time!
(PC – Southern Fried Catholics)
- Francis X. Weiser. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs.
- K.A.H. Kellner, Heortology. A History of the Christian Festivals from Their Origin to the Present Day.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Ass, Feast of the” . Encyclopædia Britannica.