40 days after Easter, the Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day). Although years ago shops would close throughout the Dutch Country, and most everyone took the day off for religious observation, today only the Plain Communities, the Old Order Mennonites and Amish, continue this tradition. In the Christian liturgical calendar, this day commemorates the story of Christ’s ascension into heaven, witnessed by his disciples, to whom he gave the “great commission,” instructions to spread the word of the miracles they witnessed. For this reason, Himmelfahrt was considered to be one of the holiest days of the year, aside from Good Friday (Karfreidaag), and folk cultural beliefs and traditions abounded on this particular day.
The first of May is by no means an official holiday among the Pennsylvania Dutch, but a number of significant folk-cultural traditions took place on this day. As the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, May first coincided with the visible increase of daylight and the blossoming of the earth. It is therefore small wonder that the day was associated with fertility and the blossoming of youth.