Pentecost is the Christian festival that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and ten days after the Ascension. It is also known in English, especially in Britain, as Whitsun (Whitsunday), because of the white robes traditionally worn this day by those newly baptized on the previous Easter. The word was already familiar in Old English, as Hwita Sunnandæg. The week beginning on Whitsunday (especially the first three days) is called Whitsuntide (formerly also spelled Whitsontide) or Whit Week.
The name "Pentecost" comes from the Greek word Pentékosté, meaning "fiftieth", and originally referred to Shavuot, celebrated after seven full weeks on the fiftieth day after Passover (the second day of Passover, on the 16th of Nisan, is the first day of counting the Omer). The Hebrew festival was originally connected with celebrating the first-fruits of the spring grain harvest, but the Christian festival lost those associations to the new association with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostal Christian churches, which are so named because they emphasise the Holy Spirit in each individual, celebrate Pentecost as the anniversary of the disciples' being filled with the Spirit, as described in the New Testament in Acts 2. Not only Pentecostal Christian churches celebrate the day of Pentecost. In the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern Rites, the feast of Pentecost Sunday is celebrated with the rank of a solemnity (the highest liturgical rank for any commemoration). Most Christians recognise the event of Pentecost as the birth of the Church (the moment when its foundation was completed).
Pentecost is also called:
- the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16: 10)
- the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23: 16)
- the day of first-fruits (Numbers 28:26)
In the Hellenistic period, the feast was for renewal of the covenant God made with Noah (Gen. 9:8-17)
Traditions and holidays
The name "Whit" does not come from use of white robes/garments worn at baptism. This tradition of wearing white started after Pentecost was called Whit Sunday. The word "whit" comes from the word "wisdom", one of the gifts of the Spirit at Pentecost. Hence the varying names for Pentecost in other countries, individually signifying various gifts, attributes and signs of the Holy Spirit. ( F Noy -Dorchester)
- In Italy it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pascha rosatum. The Italian name Pascha rossa comes from the red colours of the vestments used on Whitsunday.
- In France it was customary to blow trumpets during Divine service, to recall the sound of the mighty wind which accompanied the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
- In England the gentry amused themselves with horse races. The Whitsun Ales or merrymakings are almost wholly obsolete in England. At these ales the Whitsun plays were performed.
- At Vespers of Pentecost in the Oriental Churches, the extraordinary service of genuflexion, accompanied by long poetical prayers and psalms, takes place. On Pentecost the Russians carry flowers and green branches in their hands. It ought also to be noted that the week prior to this holiday is known as "green week", during which all manner of plants and herbs are gathered. The Eastern Orthodox church considers this whole week to be an ecclesiastic feast.
The following Monday is a holiday in much of Europe. The day is known as Whit Monday in England, Wales, and Ireland, and is also celebrated in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Switzerland, Germany and Hungary. Since 1967, however, Whit Monday has not been a public holiday in the United Kingdom; the holiday has been moved to the fixed date of the last Monday in May, which sometimes but by no means always coincides with Whit Monday. Whit Monday also ceased to be a statutory holiday in France in 2005, where the abolishment led to strong protests. Also in Sweden Whit Monday is no longer a holiday and June 6 (Swedish National Day) has become a day off.
Whitsunday remains one of the Scottish term days, at which debts are paid and leases traditionally expire, but this Scottish Whitsunday is now always considered to fall on May 15.
When is Pentecost?
- Wave offerings
- Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost
- Catholic Traditions and Customs for Pentecost and the Time After Pentecost
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