The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Monti Fest or the Nativity of Mary, is a popular festival in Mangalore. Celebrated on September 8 every year, it is believed to be the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Birth of Mary
An apocryphal text, “Protoevangelium of James,” gives an account of Mary’s birth. Written in the second half of the second century, the text mentions St. Joachim and St. Anne as the parents of Mary. The book says that Mary’s parents were wealthy, but unhappy about being childless.
But neither the “Protoevangelium of James” nor any other apocryphal text talks about the actual birth place of Mary. While some mention Jerusalem as her birthplace, others say that she was born in Nazareth. Since her father was a rich man, he could have had houses in both places.
History of the Festival
A hymn dated somewhere in the sixth century makes the earliest mention of this festival. According to this hymn, the festival could have originated either in Palestine or Syria in the early sixth century.
The first mass associated with the Nativity was celebrated at the present Church of St. Anne, located in Jerusalem. This church was constructed in the fifth century as a Marian basilica at a place called Shepherd’s Pool, where Mary’s parents were believed to have lived. The Byzantines first celebrated the birthday of Mary in the seventh century.
In Mangaluru, Fr. Joachim Miranda, a Catholic priest from Goa, initiated the Monti Fest in 1763 at the Monte Mariano Church in Farangipet. The pages of history reveal that Tippu Sultan, who destroyed churches and held the Catholics of Canara captive, did not harm Monte Mariano Church out of respect for the friendship between Fr. Joachim Miranda and Hyder Ali. The festival is called Monti Fest in Kudla because it was initiated at the Monte Mariano Church, located on the banks of the Nethravathi, some three centuries ago.
How Catholics Celebrate Nativity
The Nativity is especially popular among the winegrowers of France, who call it the Feast of Our Lady of the Grape Harvest. They pick bunches of the best grapes, bring them to the local church, and decorate the statue of Mary with grapes. French believers cook delicious meals, which include these new grapes.
The people of Goa and Mangalore celebrate this festival as a harvest festival. They carry the harvest of fruits, vegetables, and grains to the church, where it is blessed and distributed among the poor. They cook delicious meals and have them with the new grain.
Monti Fest in Kudla
The Catholics of Kudla hold this festival in high esteem and celebrate it in a special way.
Family Festival: Catholic families get together to feast on the new grain. The new grains, previously blessed in church, are powdered, mixed with milk, and served to the entire family. They call it “Novem Jevnche,” which literally means “feasting on the new.”
Harvest Festival: The farmers have harvested the season’s fruits, vegetables, and grains. They take these gifts of nature to the church and offer them to God. The harvest is blessed, the surplus vegetables and fruits distributed among the needy or auctioned off to raise funds for public welfare, and the ears of rice grains are distributed among the parishioners. These rice grains are used to prepare the special milk-rice drink mentioned above.
Birthday of Mary: Parishioners celebrate the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on this day. A statue of infant Mary is carried in a colorful procession to church and children offer flowers. Catholics call it “phulam udovchem,” which literally means “throwing flowers.” In fact, Catholic kids literally throw flowers at the statue of infant Mary.
Feast of the Girl Child: September 8 is an opportunity to remind people of the importance of women in society. On this day, crimes against women, especially female infanticide and feticide, are condemned and awareness is created on women’s empowerment.
Thanksgiving Feast: There are plenty of things to be grateful for on September 8. Catholics express their gratitude to God for giving them a loving family, a rich harvest, and a fruitful life. They especially thank God for giving them Mother Mary, through whom the Savior came into this world.
Catholics celebrate by wearing new clothes, offering flowers, cooking delicious vegetarian meals, and spending quality time with friends and family members. They share mouthwatering sannas (a soft variety of idli) and vorn (a sweet dish made of split green gram) with their non-Catholic neighbors.
September 8 is a grand opportunity to rest, relax, and unwind, to express gratitude for all the wonderful things of life, to strengthen bonds with neighbors, family members, and friends, to appreciate the girl child, and of course, to eat sugarcane and vorn.