The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Birthday of the Mother of God

Birth of the Virgin Mary
Italy, Emilia Romagna, Ferrara, National Gallery. In the lower part the newborn Virgin Mary is washed; in the upper part St, Anne in bed, immediately after childbirth. Photo by Foto Fast/Electa / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day on which Christians East and West commemorate the birth of Mary, the Mother of God, was celebrated as early as the sixth century. We know that from the fact that Saint Romanos the Melodist, an Eastern Christian who composed many of the hymns used in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies, composed a hymn for the feast at that time.

The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary spread to Rome in the seventh century, but it took a couple of more centuries before it was celebrated throughout the West.

Quick Facts

History of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Even though we cannot trace the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary back any further than the sixth century, the source for the story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is much older. The earliest documented version is found in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel written about A.D.

150. From the Protoevangelium of James, we learn the names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, as well as the tradition that the couple was childless until an angel appeared to Anna and told her that she would conceive. (Many of the same details appear also in the later apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.)

The Reason for the Date

The traditional date of the feast, September 8, falls exactly nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Perhaps because of its close proximity to the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not celebrated today with the same solemnity as the Immaculate Conception. It is, nonetheless, a very important feast, because it prepares the way for the birth of Christ. It is also an unusual feast, because it celebrates a birthday.

Why Do We Celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary's Birthday?

The feasts of saints are traditionally celebrated on the day of their death, because that is the date on which they entered into eternal life. And, indeed, we also celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary's entrance into Heaven on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption.

There are only three people whose birthdays have traditionally been celebrated by Christians. Jesus Christ, at Christmas; Saint John the Baptist; and the Blessed Virgin Mary. And we celebrate all three birthdays for the same reason: All three were born without Original Sin. Christ, because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; Mary, because she was kept free from the stain of Original Sin by the action of God in His foreknowledge that she would agree to be the mother of Christ; and Saint John, because he was blessed in the womb by the presence of his Savior when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to aid her cousin Elizabeth in the final months of Elizabeth's pregnancy (an event we celebrate in the Feast of the Visitation).