Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8.
It is the patronal feast day of Spain, Korea, Portugal, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines and the United States of America. It is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as well as a few other closely related Christian churches.
The feast is often celebrated with Holy Mass, parades, fireworks, processions, ethnic foods, and cultural festivities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is generally considered a "family day", especially in many Catholic countries.
The Eastern Christian Church first celebrated a Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God on December 9 perhaps as early as the 5th century in Syria.
By the 7th century, the feast was already widely known in the East. However, when the Eastern Church called Mary achrantos (spotless or immaculate), it did not define exactly what this meant. Today the majority of Orthodox Christians would not accept the Scholastic definition of Mary's preservation from original sin before her birth that subsequently evolved in the Western Church after the Great Schism of 1054. After the feast was translated to the Western Church in the eighth century, it began to be celebrated on December 8. It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread into England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.
Prior to Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception as a Roman Catholic dogma in 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of her conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin. A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same collect for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well.
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The first move towards describing Mary's conception as "immaculate" came in the eleventh century. In the fifteenth century Pope Sixtus IV, while promoting the festival, explicitly tolerated those who promoted it as the Immaculate Conception and those who challenged such a description, a position later endorsed by the Council of Trent.
The collect for the feast reads:
O God, mercifully hear the supplication of thy servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by Thee from dangers which beset us.
In 1854, Pius IX made the infallible statement Ineffabilis Deus: "The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."
Cultural impact 
It is a public holiday in Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guam, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Seychelles, Spain, Vatican City, Venezuela, and in the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland. In some countries, though December 8 is not a public holiday, their respective Episcopal Conference however declared this day as a Holy Day of Obligation, as it is in the United States, the Philippines and Ireland.
December 8 is also celebrated as Mother's Day in Panama in honor of this holiday and is therefore a national holiday.
In Leon, Nicaragua, the feast is celebrated with a tradition called Griteria composed of grand parades, fireworks, songs and various religious activities related to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her maternal role in Roman Catholicism. Similar practices are observed in various other Catholic countries.
Anglican Communion 
In the Church of England, the "Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary" may be observed as a Lesser Festival on 8 December. The situation in other constituent churches of the Anglican Communion is similar. Many Anglo-Catholic parishes observe the feast using the traditional Roman Catholic title, the "Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary". See this article and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission 2004 statement on Mary: 
Eastern Orthodoxy 
While the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never accepted the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they do celebrate December 9 as the Feast of the Conception by St. Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos. While the Orthodox believe that the Virgin Mary was, from her conception, filled with every grace of the Holy Spirit, in view of her calling as the Mother of God, they do not teach that she was conceived without original sin as their understanding of this doctrine differs from the Roman Catholic articulation. The Orthodox do affirm that Mary is "all-holy" and never committed a personal sin during her lifetime.
The Orthodox feast is not a perfect nine months before the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) as it is in the West, but a day later. This feast is not ranked among the Great Feasts of the church year, but is a lesser-ranking feast (Polyeleos).
Although the Lutheran churches teach that Mary was immaculately conceived, they have nothing on their calendar for December 8. But some individual Lutheran churches may choose to celebrate the "Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary" (Roman Catholic title) on December 8 as a lesser festival.
See also 
- Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos). The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1963), pp. 263-264.
- Francis X. Weiser. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), p. 292.
- The Roman Missal in English Tr. John England (Philadelphia: Eugene Chummiskey, 1843), p. 529.
- The Sarum Missal in English Tr. A. Harford Pearson (London: The Church Printing Co., 1834), p. 332.
- Ineffabilis Deus the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854), in the Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 615.
- Earth Calendar
- Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1963, ISBN 0-14-020592-6), pp. 263-4.
- Sermons of Martin Luther, 291
- LCMS Immaculate Conception