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Feast of the Ass

The Feast of the Ass was a Christian feast during medieval times, which was mainly celebrated in France. It celebrated all of the donkeys of the Bible, especially the one that was believed to have brought Jesus and his family into Egypt after Jesus' birth, during what is known as the Flight into Egypt. At that time, the family was fleeing the killing of young boys by Herod the Great. Another example of a donkey in the Bible is the one that Jesus rode on into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is also believed that a donkey was in the stable in which Jesus was born. First celebrated during the eleventh century, the holiday is connected to the Feast of Fools, and was inspired by the pagan Roman festival Cervulus.

On the day, a girl would ride a donkey through a town to a church. She would carry a baby, or be pregnant herself, and a song would be sung by those on the streets as she rode. The words of the song can be translated to, "From Oriental country came a lordly ass of highest fame, so beautiful, so strong and trim, no burden was too great for him. Hail, Sir Donkey, hail." When the donkey arrived at the church, it stood beside the altar during the service, and sometimes was given food and drink. The congregation would bray or "hee-haw" its responses back to the priest, and the priest would sometimes bray as well. Beauvais, a city in Northern France, had particularly raucous Feast of the Ass celebrations.

The holiday began being celebrated less and less during the second half of the fifteenth century after the Catholic Church officially spoke out against it. The Feast of Fools fell from favor at this time as well. Both celebrations were seen as not being proper, although, this was much more the case with the Feast of Fools than it was with Feast of the Ass.

How to Observe

Here are some ways to celebrate the day:

  • Read the Biblical account of the Flight to Egypt or Palm Sunday.
  • Look for other instances in the Bible where donkeys are mentioned.
  • Say "hee-haw" or bray like a donkey.
  • Ride your donkey if you own one.
  • Recite the phrase that was sung on the day during medieval times: "From Oriental country came a lordly ass of highest fame, so beautiful, so strong and trim, no burden was too great for him. Hail, Sir Donkey, hail."
  • Play pin the the tail on the donkey.

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