A special day in May

Smiling woman holding a small bouquet of spring wild flowers
Why yes, I love my half wilted bouquet of wild spring flowers! 😀

Every year, there’s a special Thursday in May – special in Portugal, that is. It has to do with flowers and it is a Christian festivity, although pre-Christian in origin. Dia da Espiga (loosely translated as Wheatstalk Thursday), aka, Festa da Ascensão or Quinta-feira da Ascensão, used to be one – if not the most – sacred day of the year.

No working was allowed on that day, not even to make bread or cheese, and at noon people would go to the fields to collect ears of cereal, wild flowers and olive branches – each with a specific meaning. Small bouquets were made which, depending on the local custom, were kept for a whole year behind the door or on top of the highest shelf of the house, until it was time to replace it with a new bouquet one year later.

Today, on the Feast of the Ascension you go to work as usual (no going to the fields to gather flowers, oh boo-hoo) but every city, town and suburban area will have people selling these bouquets on the street, with prices usually ranging from 1€ to 2€.

A rustic bouquet of wild spring flowers against a white cloth.

So what’s the meaning of each one of the elements in this country style bouquet?

  • White and yellow flowers stand for “silver and gold”, i.e., money;
  • the wheat stalk (or any wild plant resembling one) symbolizes bread;
  • poppies mean life and joy;
  • olive branches represent peace but also food and light, both in a metaphorical and in a literal sense – remember the old oil lamps?

I could bet other countries in Europe have a similar tradition. Do you have something like this in your country?

9 comments

  1. Interesting post. In fact, my brother was born on such a Thursday, except that my mother has always referred to it as “Quinta-Feira da Ascensão”. Even though I was aware of the tradition of picking the bouquet with the wheat and the poppies on that day, I had never heard it called that (Dia da Espiga).

    • Glad you liked it! Maybe it’s a regional variant… I always heard the two expressions, but maybe one region will use one expression more than the other!

  2. Interesting post and a very pretty tradition!, We have the day too, called Day of Christ’s Ascension. It’s a national holiday, one of a long series between Easter and (soon to come) Pentecost Monday.

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