The Feast of Immaculate Conception was on December 8th. It was super, super quiet that day. People went out to eat but no one was walking around or driving. We had the streets to ourselves. We wanted to know what was up with the holiday.
There are patron saints of many things. Patron Saint of people (travelers), or countries, or activities/jobs (fishing). Spain has two patron saints. Saint James the Greater is the patron saint of the Spanish people, while Immaculate Conception is the patroness (lady patron) of Spain the country. Lady patron? Apparently so. Immaculate Conception looks like a term: Immaculate = tidy, clean, Conception = makin’ babies. So Immaculate Conception should be the term for the Virgin Mary so blessedly and sin-free makin’ a baby Jesus. But it’s not.
The Feast of Immaculate Conception is on December 8th, which should clue you into the fact it’s not a feast to celebrate the Virgin Mary conceiving the wee baby Jesus. Baby makin’, we’re told, takes 9 months. So if you want to feast and celebrate Jesus’s immaculate conception you would have to feast on March 25th, 9 months before Christmas. December 8th is actually 9 months before Mary’s birthday – September 8th. So this is the immaculate conception of Mary*, not Jesus. Not only did she tidily not-do-the-deed to create Jesus. She, herself, was immaculately conceived – looks like immaculate conception runs in the family.
*Worth noting here not everyone agrees she was immaculately conceived but we’re not talking about those people we’re talking about Spain.
More confusing is Immaculate Conception is used like a lady’s name. “Immaculate Conception” herself is the patroness of Spain. So it must be a lady, as well as being a term to refer to Mary’s having-been-conceived-sin-free. Who’s the lady? Mary. Which is confusing because she already has a name.
Recap: while Mary was born on September 8th and we celebrate her own conception as Immaculate Conception (now her name) on December 8th. This is not Jesus who was immaculately conceived on March 25. “Mary” is not the patroness of Spain, “Immaculate Conception” is. Kinda like Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas/Father Christmas – same dude, many names. Except Mary is one lady, and about a thousand names and titles: Maryam, Mariam, Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Mary, the Mother of God, the Theotokos, Mary Mother of Jesus, and Queen Mother.
She also has a bunch of titles like Full of Grace, Blessed, Most Blessed, Mother Most Pure, Virgin Most Prudent, and Cause of Our Joy. And of course Our Lady of…
- Good Counsel
- the Annunciation
- Star of the Sea
- Immaculate Conception
So the patroness saint of Spain* is Immaculate Conception (here, a proper noun, not a verb) and she was born of Immaculate Conception (here a verb, not a proper noun).
*also it’s worth noting that Immaculate Conception (the name) is the patroness of 10 countries including Spain, Portugal, the USA, Brazil, Korea, etc…
Cool. 400 words in and we’re ready to talk about the fest itself.
The Feast Itself
The Feast of Immaculate Conception is, for Spain, the kick-off of the holiday season. December 8th is truly when you can declare “Christmas Season Has Begun!” In the USA it’s about as soon as you put your fork down on Thanksgiving.
The day is a National Holiday and is also a (ominous, echoing voice) “Holy Day of Obligation.” This means you must rest and you must attend mass if you know what’s good for you(r soul).
How do people celebrate it? Churches have extra services to accommodate the extra obligated folks. Other than that it seems no one does much of anything. There can be the “Dance of the Six” where six altar boys run around with a figure of Mary over their heads. We didn’t see this but that’s not to say it didn’t happen when we weren’t looking. There also can be year long celebrations where young virginal ladies raise money for the celebrations of Immaculate Conception.
Celebrations? It’s meant to be solemn – it was here. But in other places, like Seville, it can be more party-like. Honestly if you want to have the most religious partying with firecrackers and booze just head to Andalucia.
Other than that people went out to eat. Most of the restaurants we passed were as full as we had ever seen them. Were they feasting for real or just resting by not cooking? The streets were pretty quiet, not many people were out and about. But the stores were open (I believe some had reduced hours).
In short, this day is to celebrate Jesus’s mama and to prepare yourself mentally for the Christmas season ahead by resting (not shopping).