About the Feast

Tradition holds that Mary was the only child of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, whose feast day is celebrated on July 26. Though there is no record of Mary's actual day of birth, this feast was celebrated by Christians in Syria and Palestine as early as the sixth century, when on a particular September 8 a church in Jerusalem was consecrated in Mary's honor.

Over the next several centuries, observance of this feast spread to the Western Church; by the Middle Ages, it was a public holy day and remained a day of obligation until 1918. (The Feast of the Annunciation also was removed as a day of obligation at that. time.)

In many central and eastern European countries, September 8 is associated with thanksgiving and harvest festivals and blessings of the seed for next year's crops. In France, vineyard owners offer their best grapes to "Our Lady of the Grape Harvest".

Observing the Feast

In order to shift children's focus away from Santa-based materialism, many people suggest that Christmas Day be celebrated as a birthday party for Jesus, complete with birthday cake and singing of "Happy Birthday". On September 8, a celebration in honor of Mary's birthday is just as appropriate. And what better cake for such a celebration than angel food cake?
Chocolate Angel Food Cake

A chocolate angel food cake is not traditional, but it's even more delicious than the original.


    1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
    1/4 cup cocoa
    1 3/4 cups white sugar
    1 3/4 cups egg whites (reserve the yolks to make a custard)
    1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the baking rack at the bottom third of your oven.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, and 3/4 cup of the sugar at least twice and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl (it must be ceramic or metal, not plastic), beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla until soft peaks form. (The peaks will droop when the beaters are lifted.) Gradually add the remaining 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Sift about a third of the flour mixture over the egg-white mixture, and gently fold it in with a large rubber spatula instead of a spoon. Repeat with the remaining flour, a third at a time. Turn mixture from the bottom of the bowl to the top until there are no streaks of chocolate or egg white, without "deflating" too many of the egg-white bubbles.

Gently spoon the batter into an ungreased 9- or 10-inch tube pan. Run a knife through the batter to remove any large air pockets. Smooth the top of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is risen, dry looking, and slightly brown.

Cool by placing the tube pan upside down—inverted on a wine bottle (or other narrow-neck glass bottle) if your pan does not have little "feet" to hold it off the counter. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.

Serve by topping slices with a thin chocolate sauce or chocolateflavored whipped cream (whipped cream with cocoa and sugar added).