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see PentecostPentecost
[Gr.,=fiftieth], important Jewish and Christian feast. The Jewish feast of Pentecost, in Hebrew Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, arose as the celebration of the closing of the spring grain harvest, which began formally in Passover 50
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Pentecost (Whitsunday)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Seventh Sunday (fifty days) after Easter
Where Celebrated: British Isles, Europe, United States, and throughout the Christian world
Symbols and Customs: Dew, Dove, Rose, Smoke Money
Colors: Pentecost is associated with the colors red and white-red for the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles' heads, and white for the robes worn by the newly baptized.
Related Holidays: Easter, Pinkster, Shavuot


Pentecost is a Christian holiday that takes place fifty days after EASTER. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects. Pentecost

As recorded in the New Testament of the Bible, it was fifty days after EASTER that the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of SHAVUOT . As they prayed together, the Holy Spirit descended on them in the form of "tongues of fire," enabling them to speak in other languages. Transformed from rather timid men into courageous missionaries, they immediately began to preach about Jesus Christ to the Jews from many nations who had flocked to Jerusalem for Shavuot. More than 3,000 were baptized, an event now considered to mark the birth of the Christian Church. According to tradition, this is also the day on which, centuries earlier, Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, giving the Jewish religious community its start.

"Pentecost" comes from the Greek word meaning "fiftieth." Just as the Jewish feast of Shavuot comes fifty days after PASSOVER, Pentecost is observed fifty days after Easter. In the beginning, Pentecost included the entire fifty-day period from Easter to the Descent of the Holy Spirit, although a special festival was observed on the last day. It was a period of continual rejoicing during which fasting was not permitted and prayers had to be offered while standing rather than kneeling, in honor of Jesus' resurrection. The first mention of Pentecost as a separate feast occurred in the third century, when it became the second official date of the year (after Easter) when infants and catechumens (those who had been instructed in the basics of Christianity) could be baptized. The English called it Whitsunday (White Sunday), probably because of the white robes worn by the newly baptized. Eventually the number of children left unchristened because their parents were waiting for Whitsuntide became too unwieldy, and the rules regarding when people could be baptized were relaxed.

The period known as Whitsuntide (the week beginning on the Saturday before Whitsunday and ending the following Saturday) has traditionally been associated with the return of good weather and the emergence of green grass and spring flowers. A common way of observing Whitsuntide in many countries is to go out in the fields or woods and bring back green boughs to decorate a member of the village. Known variously as Green George, Jack-in-the-Green, the Leaf Man, and the Whitsuntide Lout, these woodland characters are believed to be a survival of pagan spring rites. In a game called "hunting the green man," children search for a young man dressed in leaves and moss.

In the early Christian Church, Pentecost was second in importance only to Easter. Nowadays no special ceremonies take place on this day in Roman Catholic churches, aside from the Saturday vigil and the Mass celebrated on Sunday with symbolic red vestments. In the Episcopal and Protestant churches, Pentecost is still a day for the confirmation and baptism of new members. All Christian churches celebrate Holy Communion on this day.



In rural areas of northern Europe, people still believe in the special healing power of the dew that falls during the night on the eve of Pentecost. They walk barefoot through the grass early on Sunday morning in the belief that the dew that touches their feet will cure their ills and protect them from harm. They also collect dew on pieces of bread and feed them to their pets and farm animals as protection against accidents and disease.


In both ancient and Christian art, the dove is a symbol of purity and peace. But since the earliest years of the Christian era, it has symbolized the Holy Ghost, based on the Bible's description of the descent of the Holy Spirit in John 1:32: "And John bore record, saying, I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." Nowadays the dove can be seen on priestly vestments, on altars, sacred utensils, and in many religious paintings. It is customary to have a painted dove suspended over the altar during Mass on Pentecost, and some families hang a carved and painted dove over their dining room table during Whitsuntide.

Christians have come up with a number of ingenious ways of incorporating the dove into their celebration of Pentecost. At one time, real doves were often let loose during Pentecost services, or pieces of white wool were thrown down from the "Holy Ghost hole" in the church ceiling. Sometimes a slowly revolving disk bearing the figure of a white dove on a blue background would descend horizontally to announce the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In some central European countries, pieces of burning straw or wick were dropped from the hole to represent the tongues of fire (see ROSE ). In France, trumpets were blown during Mass on Pentecost to signify the rushing wind that accompanied the Spirit's descent.

In Germany and Austria, it is customary to suspend a painted wooden dove over the altar on Pentecost. At Orvieto, Italy, a wooden dove with extended wings runs along a wire in the great square in front of the cathedral, giving the illusion that the Holy Spirit is descending on the Apostles, who are gathered together on a platform set up in front of the cathedral doors.


Just as the DOVE is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the red rose has become a symbol for the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles during the Holy Spirit's visit on Pentecost. Centuries ago, people used to shoot real flames from the church roof Pentecost

or use lit torches to represent the tongues of fire, but safety concerns eventually put a stop to the practice. Red roses became a less dangerous substitute for real flames, and huge quantities of them were often let down from the church ceiling during the Pentecost service.

In Germany, Pentecost is called Pfingsten, and the prevailing symbol of the feast is the pink and red peonies known as Pfingstrosen or "Whitsun roses."

Smoke Money

In Scotland, Whitsunday was one of the so-called Quarter Days, the days on which rents and other payments fell due. In England, it was the day on which people paid their money to support the church. Because they were assessed on the basis of how many fireplaces they had in their houses, or according to the number of chimneys, the Whitsunday collection came to be known as "hearth" or "smoke" money.


Appleton, LeRoy H., and Stephen Bridges. Symbolism in Liturgical Art. New York: Scribner, 1959. Barz, Brigitte. Festivals with Children. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1987. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Monks, James L. Great Catholic Festivals. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. 1958. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.


Christian Resource Institute www.cresourcei.org/cypentecost.html
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