The Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, is an annual religious procession dating back to 1303. The event takes place on Ascension Day, which falls on May 9 this year.

The Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, is an annual religious procession dating back to 1303. The event takes place on Ascension Day, which falls on May 9 this year. (iStock)

Easter Sunday falls on March 31 in 2024, a date that changes from year to year depending on the appearance of the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. Insofar as Easter as celebrated by Western Christian churches can occur on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25, one could rightly say this holiest of holidays falls quite early this year. Easter’s ever-changing date has ramifications for a number of both secular and religious holidays and associated traditions worth witnessing firsthand in the coming weeks:

Ascension Day

The feast day commemorating Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into Heaven is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday falling exactly 40 days after Easter. The holiday referred to in German as Christi Himmelfahrt falls on May 9 in 2024.

Mechelen, Belgium: For hundreds of years, this city roughly equidistant from Brussels and Antwerp has been feting the Virgin Mary with a many-faceted parade. Since 1272, the Hanswijk procession has wound its way through the city streets on the Sunday preceding Ascension Day. What’s believed to be the oldest procession in Belgium takes its name from an old town district that’s home to the imposing Basilica of Our Lady of Hanswijk. Blending religious traditions, folklore and artistry, the procession involves horses, famous figures from the Bible and marchers clad in historical costumes evoking the eras of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Knights of the Golden Fleece. Choirs, musicians, farm animals and relics including the statue of Our Lady of Hanswijk add yet more layers of color and sound. Events start May 5 with a solemn mass in the Hanswijk Basilica at 11 a.m., and the procession sets forth at 3 p.m. Spectator seating is available for a few euros. Online:

Salzburg, Austria: On May 8, the evening prior to Ascension Day, music will fill the air of the city’s charming Old Town. The Lange Nacht der Chöre, or Long Night of Choirs, sees choral groups of all types perform across some 18 indoor and outdoor venues, from luxuriously appointed halls to museums, cinemas, the crypt under the cathedral and in the catacombs of the cemetery of St. Peter. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Entry is free. Online:

Bruges, Belgium: The Procession of the Holy Blood, which always takes place on Ascension Day, sees some 30,000 or more spectators gather to watch a colorful pageant dating back to the 13th century. The object of veneration is a relic brought back from the Second Crusade to Bruges by a citizen of the town. Marchers accompanied by brass bands and horse-drawn carts perform episodes from the Old Testament, Jesus’ life and the city’s history. The procession starts at 2:30 p.m. May 9. Online:

Throughout Germany: Ascension Day has a second identity, that of Men’s Day or Father’s Day. Rather than celebrating with their families, it’s traditional for men to gather with their closest friends and head out to enjoy the great outdoors. They’ll often have in tow a boom box and that most essential of accessories, a wagon filled with adult beverages. Although this might appear to be a thoroughly modern interpretation of the day, the so-called “Herrentouren” date back to the late 1800s.

Bad Breisig, Germany: From May 9-12, this charming Middle Rhine Valley town celebrates its annual Brunnenfest with a program including live music, market stalls and stands selling cool drinks. Festivities unfold in the Kurpark. Entry is free. Online:

Koblenz, Germany: The Festung Ehrenbreitstein towers over Koblenz from its high perch on a bluff on the opposite side of the Rhine. On May 9, 11 and 12, visitors to the mighty old fortress can experience 3,000 years of history encompassing the times of the Celts, Romans, Middle Ages and the Prussians. Entry to this family-friendly “Historienspiele” costs 12.50 euros for adults and 7.50 euros for children; alternately, a family pass for two adults and up to four kids goes for 29 euros. Online:

Pentecost: The date referred to Whitsunday in Ireland and the United Kingdom or Pfingst in German celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary and the Apostles. This date falls on the seventh Sunday, which corresponds to 49 days, following Easter (May 19 in 2024). In Germany and other European countries, the following Monday is an official holiday.

Winterthur, Switzerland: For more than 30 years, the Afro-Pfingsten Festival has been transforming this city located northeast of Zurich into an intercultural meeting place. The diversity of Afro-cultures is celebrated with a program made up of music, street artists, authors, workshops, a marketplace and more. Events take place from May 15-22. Online:

Darmstadt, Germany: Since 1999, this city has used the long Pentecost weekend as an occasion to host a music fest involving multiple musical acts performing across several stages scattered across the downtown area. The so-called Schlossgraben Fest, once free, is now a ticketed affair. Performing artists are a mix of nationally known acts and up-and-coming bands and solo acts from the region. The fest takes place May 16-19; a pass for all four days goes for 34.98 euros. Single-day passes are also available. Online:

Liège, Belgium: For the past decade, this lively city in Wallonia has been marking the Pentecost weekend with a festival of artisanal breweries. The Summer Lover’s Beer Fest is a happy marriage of beers from local breweries and other tasty beverages, quality street foods, DJ sets and live entertainment. Entry to the festival is free; beer sampling requires the purchase of a festival glass for three euros. The fest runs on all afternoons from May 16-19. Online:

Vlčnov, Czech Republic: The Ride of the Kings is a folk festival traditionally held around Whit Sunday each year, although nowadays it is not always celebrated on that same weekend. In a tradition dating back more than 200 years, the village of Vlčnov celebrates the coming of age of its male youth. Festivities culminate with a procession of the “king,” a boy aged 10-12, dressed in girl’s clothing, and his entourage of costumed riders on horses, which are also adorned for the occasion. Folklore ensembles, concerts on traditional instruments, wine tasting and a crafts fair round out the proceedings. The event unfolds May 25-26; the procession itself takes place from 2:30 p.m. May 26. Online:

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