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Note: This article is mostly about the Christian holiday of Pentecost. For the Jewish holiday of "Pentecost" see the article on Shavuot

Pentecost (the 50th day in ancient Greek) is a holiday of Christianity, which 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 Sunnandćg. 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 emphasize 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. Most Christians recognize this event as the birth of the Church.

Pentecost is also called:

   the Feast of Weeks (Dt 16: 10)
   the Feast of Harvest (Ex 23: 16)
   the day of first-fruits (Nu. 28:26) 

In the Hellenistic period, the feast was for renewal of the covenant God made with Noah (Gen. 9:8-17)

  • 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.

The following Monday is a holiday in much of Europe. The day is known as Whitmonday in England, Wales, and Ireland, and is also celebrated in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Switzerland and Germany. 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 will also cease to be a day off in France from 2005 onwards.

Whitsunday remains one of the Scottish term days, at which debts are paid and leases traditionally expire.

When is Pentecost?

Western Christianity

Eastern Christianity

See also : Wave offerings

Last updated: 05-06-2005 14:28:36