On 8 December, Spain celebrates the ‘Feast of the Immaculate Conception’. It is a public holiday and, for many this is when Christmas officially starts. The feast was originally called the Conception of Mary and arose in the Eastern Catholic Church in the seventh century It spread to the West in the eighth century, and in the 11th century received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the 18th century it became a feast of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX's solemn declaration, Ineffabilis Deus, clarified with finality the long-held belief of the Church that Mary was conceived free from original sin. In proclaiming the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a dogma of the Church, the pope expressed precisely and clearly that Mary was conceived free from the stain of original sin. This privilege of Mary derives from God's having chosen her as Mother of the Savior; thus she received the benefits of salvation in Christ from the very moment of her conception. (The picture above shows her mother, Anna, with the infant Mary within her womb.) This great gift to Mary, an ordinary human being just like us, was fitting because she was destined to be Mother of God. The purity and holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for all Christians.