|this just seems awkward for everybody...|
in argentina, austria, chile, colombia, italy, malta, portugal and spain, as well as in many parts of switzerland, today is a holiday dedicated to the celebration of the virgin mary and her place in christian mythology. as you can tell from the places where this day is celebrated, mary is a much bigger deal for catholics, who are a lot more polytheistic than you would think, than for protestants.
you could also be forgiven for thinking that december 8th is a weird day to be celebrating the immaculate conception, since the end product of the immaculate conception is supposed to have been born less than three weeks later, on the 25th. either the baby jesus really didn't want to come out, or grew at a rate only seen in that thing from spawn.
but it turns out that this is the celebration of mary's conception to her mother, saint anne, and father joachim, a previously barren couple who were told by an angel that, when they did give birth to a child, she would change the whole world. moved by the experience, anne offered her newborn daughter to god's service. you probably don't want to think too hard about how that could have been interpreted.
[side note :: if she were conceived on the 8th of december, that means that mary would have been born in early to mid-september of the following year. astrologically speaking, that would make her a virgo.]
anne and joachim don't actually appear in the bible, which explains why the purist protestants don't pay them any mind. they are mentioned in a few early christian texts which catholics, like jews and muslims about their holy books, consider important to the overall understanding of the bible. there isn't a lot of history about jesus' maternal grandparents, but it does establish that there was a tradition in the family of angelically delivered pregnancy test results, which might explain why mary's whole "god made me pregnant" didn't seem so weird.
the holiday wasn't celebrated by christians until about the eighth century, which is just as well for poor mary, who probably wouldn't have enjoyed it. after all mary wasn't conceived immaculately, so every year she would have been forced to watch a growing number of people celebrate her parents getting it on.
the 'immaculate' in this sense refers to a unique gift bestowed on mary by god, and one that proved controversial: mary is the only human being since adam and eve to be born absolved of original sin. if you're a devout catholic, that's a huge thing. original sin taints every single human. we have a ritual wherein we wash away the sin through baptism and literally every person who was never baptised, including all the good people who lived before anyone knew they were supposed to be baptised, goes to hell. the claim was controversial enough that the heads of the catholic church were arguing until 1854 about whether or not it was going too far to say that it was true. [eventually, pope pius ix, a big mary fan and the only verified person to hold the office longer than john paul ii, said that he believed it, which seems like a rather anticlimactic way to end a thousand-year debate, but that's the catholic church for you.]
i personally like knowing about these so-called 'days of obligation' [you're supposed to go to church], because it reminds me of how very odd our dominant religions have been throughout their history. so i take a moment to think upon mary who, if you believe the theologists, is sitting with her parents in heaven, watching a whole lot of people honour "hail mary your parents boned today" day.
p.s. :: mary might have just chosen to distract herself from the details of how she was conceived by ducking out to a party for the prophet muhammed. his birthday- december is a big month for religious leaders, apparently- is also celebrated today, but only in kuwait. everywhere else in the islamic world celebrates it on the 11th/ 12th depending on the lunar calendar, meaning that, this year at least, he gets a whole long weekend of birthday. lucky boy.
p.p.s. :: in the byzantine church, joachim and anne get their own day on the 25th of july, which has nothing to do with them getting busy.