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(pĕn`təkôst) [Gr.,=fiftieth], important Jewish and Christian feast. The Jewish feast of Pentecost, in Hebrew ShavuotShavuot
[Heb.,=weeks], Jewish feast celebrated on the 6th of the month of Sivan (usually some time in May) in Israel and on the sixth and seventh days in the Diaspora. Originally an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the winter grain harvest (which began at Passover),
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, 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 days prior; there are numerous references to it in the Bible. From Rabbinic times, the festival commemorates the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

On the Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus (50 days from the Passover in which He was crucified), the Holy Spirit, according to the Acts of the Apostles, descended on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire accompanied by the sound of a rush of wind, and gave them the power of speaking in such a way that people of different languages could understand them. The Christian feast of Pentecost is an annual commemoration of this event, and it is solemnly observed as the birthday of the church and the feast of the Holy Spirit.

In ecclesiastical calendars Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter and closes Eastertide. In the Western Church there are special observances, e.g., a penitential vigil, and in ancient times neophytes were baptized at this time. From the white garments of these converts comes Whitsunday, an English name for Pentecost. The great liturgical Latin hymns Veni Creator Spiritus and Veni Sancte Spiritus were composed for Pentecost. The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday; until Advent the weeks are counted from Pentecost or Trinity.

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Binkosti, Blumenfest (Flower Feast), Domineca Spiritului
Santu (Sunday of the Holy Spirit), Feast of the Holy Ghost,
Id El-'Uncure (Feast of the Solemn Assembly), Pentecosté,
Pentecôte, Pentekoste, Pentiqosti, Pfingsten, Pintse,
Pünkösd, Red Feast, Slavnost Letnice (Summer Feast),
Whitsunday, Zielone Swieta (Green Holyday)

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples several times before ascending into heaven (see also Ascension Day; Resurrection). Before doing so he promised that the Holy Spirit - sometimes called the Holy Ghost - would soon appear to inspire and uphold them (Acts 1:8). The Christian feast of Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible, this occurred fifty days after Passover, on the Jewish feast of Shavuot (Acts 2). A loud noise like the sound of a strong wind accompanied the coming of the Spirit, as did tongues of flame, which rested on the disciples. The Holy Spirit filled Jesus'followers with such wisdom and power that they spontaneously began to preach in foreign languages that they had never studied and did not know. Then Peter stood up and addressed the crowd that had gathered to watch this miracle. According to Christian scripture, his appeal to them to repent and be baptized was so powerful that three thousand people became Christians on that day (see also Repentance). For this reason Pentecost is sometimes called "the birthday of the church." In the Western Church calendar, observed by Roman Catholics and Protestants, it can fall anywhere between May 10 and June 13. Eastern Christians, who use a different calendar system, celebrate it between May 24 and June 27 (see also Easter, Date of).

On Pentecost the paschal candle is lit for the last time. This emblem of the risen Christ stands beside the altar from Easter to Pentecost. Its disappearance signals the end of the period of the Christian year specifically dedicated to celebrating the presence of the risen Lord among his disciples (see also Easter Season). Customs often practiced in religious services as a means of evoking the atmosphere of the first Pentecost include the use of various foreign languages and the making of hissing, wind-like sounds.


The word Pentecost comes from Pentekoste, the Greek word for fiftieth. The early Christians rejoiced for fifty days following Easter Sunday, commemorating Jesus' resurrection and ascension, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on his disciples. They celebrated each of these days as if it were a Sunday. Thus they neither fasted nor knelt to pray throughout the entire fifty days. They called this period of time Pentecost. Some scholars believe that this festive season may have been inspired by a Jewish observance known as Sefirat Haomer, or "Counting the Omer" (for more on this observance, see Shavuot). The first references to the celebration of Pentecost in the writings of the early Christians date back to the second century. Because some writers fail to mention it at all, however, certain scholars conclude that it was not observed throughout the whole of the Christian church. During the fourth century Christians began to emphasize the fiftieth day of Pentecost. By the last two decades of the fourth century the fiftieth day had become a festival in its own right. Nevertheless, its significance varied from region to region. In Rome, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), Milan (Italy), and Spain, Christians commemorated the gift of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day of Pentecost. In other places, notably Jerusalem, Christians celebrated both the Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this day. Eventually, the word Pentecost came to refer only to the fiftieth day after Easter, which became a special feast day celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit. For many centuries Christian clergy preferred to baptize newcomers to the Christian religion on the feast of Pentecost and on Easter Sunday.

Although the word Pentecost eventually came to refer primarily to the fiftieth day after Easter, Christians still recognize the days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost as a special, holy time of year. The English dubbed this period of time Eastertide, a season of the church year dedicated to the celebration of the Resurrection and the presence of the resurrected Christ among his followers (see also Easter Season).

Christians also use the word Pentecost to refer to a season of the church year. The season stretches from the feast of Pentecost to the beginning of Advent. The church year ends at the close of the Pentecost season and starts again with Advent. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to November 30. It constitutes a four-week period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.


The story of the first Pentecost inspired the symbols and many of the customs of this holiday. In Christian art fire, or tongues of flame, often stand for Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This symbolic use of flames fits well with the fire symbolism running throughout the Bible. In the Bible fire often signals God's presence and represents his power to purify. The liturgical color for Pentecost is red, symbolizing fire. Liturgical colors, hues that have been assigned certain symbolic meanings in Christian worship, are attached to the festivals and seasons of the church year. Church decorations and priests' robes will feature these colors throughout the year. In church symbolism the color red usually symbolizes love and sacrifice, a combination often associated with martyrdom. At Pentecost, however, red signifies the tongues of flame said to have appeared over Jesus'disciples as they received the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Folklore from a number of European countries presents flowers and greenery as Pentecost symbols. Red flowers, such as roses and peonies, have especially strong associations with the holiday.

Wind constitutes another Pentecost symbol. It, too, stands for the Holy Spirit, especially for its power and universal presence. Biblical writers saw wind as a symbol of God's great might. Wind also called to mind the essence of life itself, which God "breathed" into Adam after creating him out of clay (Genesis 2:7). In Christian scripture, or the New Testament, wind sometimes stands for God's Holy Spirit, which breathes spiritual vitality into human beings.

The dove serves as yet another emblem of Pentecost. This symbol for the Holy Spirit does not appear in scriptural accounts of the first Pentecost, but rather in other passages concerning Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). At that moment the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a dove, descended from heaven and alighted on him. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus began his teaching and healing career. The vivid imagery of the descending dove has impressed itself on the imaginations of countless Christians over the centuries. It became one of the most popular Christian symbols for the Holy Spirit. In central and eastern Europe families often hang a carved wooden dove, sometimes encased in a glass ball, over their dining tables on Pentecost. In Germany church services may include the lowering of a carved dove from the ceiling. These ornaments call to mind the presence of the Holy Spirit. In church services the presence of the Holy Spirit may also be represented by the use of several different languages.

Medieval Customs

In medieval times religious services employed these Pentecost symbols in a striking way. At the point in the service when the priest intoned, "Veni Sancte Spiritus" (Come, Holy Spirit), the choir made hissing or rattling noises in imitation of a great wind. In some countries, like France, this effect was achieved by sounding trumpets rather than by hissing. In those days many churches had holes in their roofs, known as "Holy Ghost holes." As the hissing noise continued a great disk, suspended on a rope, descended from the Holy Ghost hole. This disk bore the emblem of a white dove surrounded by golden rays on a blue background. As the disk neared the congregation red flowers and petals rained down from the Holy Ghost hole, representing the tongues of flame that rested over Jesus'disciples. In some places lighted wicks and straws were tossed down the Holy Ghost hole instead of flowers. Although people may have enjoyed this touch of realism, the danger of setting the congregation on fire led to the eventual cancellation of this custom. In the thirteenth century roses fell from the Holy Ghost hole in many French churches. In certain places Church officials enhanced Pentecost services by releasing white doves, which were permitted to fly freely about the church.

In medieval England Pentecost served as the occasion for cathedrals to collect small fees toward the upkeep of their buildings. People who were fortunate enough to live in a house with at least one chimney were expected to make these yearly donations to the cathedral in their diocese. On Pentecost they walked in procession behind their local priest to present these offerings at the cathedral. People dubbed these small donations "Pentecostals," "Whitsun-farthings" or "smoke farthings." Parish churches raised money by selling specially brewed beer at events known as Whitsun ales. In England the Monday and Tuesday following Pentecost Sunday were also holidays. People celebrated the Whitsun holidays, as they were called, with feasts, dances, and outdoor games.

Flowers and Greenery

In some European countries people decked churches and homes with greenery and flowers in celebration of Pentecost. Some commentators believe that this custom may have been transferred to Pentecost from May Day, a folk holiday celebrating the arrival of spring. Indeed May Day, celebrated on May first, often falls in close proximity to Pentecost. Some folk names for Pentecost reflect the importance of flowers and greenery in setting the tone of the holiday. For example, Poles and Ukrainians sometimes refer to the holiday as Zielone Swieta, or "Green Holyday." Germans dubbed the festival Blumenfest, or "Flower Feast." Czechs coined yet another folk name for the holiday, Slavnost Letnice, or "Summer Feast."

Rural German customs also bespeak a strong connection between Pentecost and the celebration of spring. Pentecost falls during the time of the year when cattle are driven to their summer grazing grounds. In many areas these animals were festooned with ribbons, leaves, and cowbells. The German phrase "dressed like a Whitsun ox" - applied to someone who was overdressed - recalls this old custom. Expeditions into the woods to gather greenery for Pentecost decorations might also include dressing someone as "the wild man" or "the green man" by covering him or her in a costume of moss and leaves. In Silesia, a region of Germany, people waited until Pentecost to erect their maypoles.

Whitsun Brides and Grooms

The folk traditions of rural Sweden furnish another example of a May Day custom that seems to have migrated to Pentecost in some places. In past times village Swedes celebrated Pentecost by choosing a local young woman to be the "Whitsun bride." In many other European countries a similar figure, called the May queen, was associated with May Day celebrations. Sometimes a Whitsun bridegroom reigned alongside the bride. The Whitsun bride visited neighborhood homes, along with her ladies-in-waiting. The Whitsun bride and her entourage entertained each household with a song, dance, or clever speech. Householders in return might be expected to offer the girl a gift of eggs (see also Egg Lore). In spite of the privileges associated with the position, many young women and men resisted acting the role of the Whitsun bride or groom. Their resistance may have reflected their awareness of the superstition that the Whitsun bride and groom would never marry, having already been pledged to the season of spring itself.


In past times people in some parts of Europe ushered in Pentecost with loud noises. In German-speaking countries people shot off guns or cracked whips in honor of the holiday. Pentecost shooting was known as Pfingstschiessen and whip-cracking as Pfingstschnalzen. Some folklorists think this custom may have originated in the belief that loud noises drive away evil spirits. In later times, however, Germans viewed the din as a boisterous salute to the holiday.

Dawn, Dew, and Wind

Another old Pentecost folk tradition requires the truly devout to rise early on Pentecost morning and climb to the tops of mountains and hills in order to pray. This custom was called "catching the Holy Ghost." Prayers uttered at sunrise on Pentecost were thought by some to be particularly powerful. The dew that falls at dawn on Pentecost was also thought to have special curative properties. In some parts of northern Europe people once walked barefoot on the grass to receive the blessing afforded by Pentecost dew. Or they wiped pieces of bread in the dew and later fed them to their animals as a means of protecting them against accidents and illnesses. Kite flying is another custom connected with Pentecost, most likely resulting from the strong association between kites and the wind.

White Sunday

The English invented another name for Pentecost, that is, Whitsunday. Whitsunday comes from the phrase "White Sunday," or Hwita Sunnandaeg in Old English. Most folklorists believe that this name was inspired by the fact that in early times Pentecost was an important occasion for baptisms. Candidates for baptism dressed in special, white robes, thus suggesting the folk name "White Sunday." Another, fanciful explanation of the word "Whitsunday" suggests that "Whit" signifies "wit," and refers to the knowledge and speaking abilities conferred upon Jesus'disciples by the Holy Spirit.

Red Sunday

Red, the liturgical color for Pentecost, has also impressed itself on the folk imagination. In some parts of Europe the "Red Feast" became a folk name for the holiday. In German-speaking regions people called the red peony, which blossoms about the time of festival, the Pfingst- rose, or "Rose of Pentecost," and the oriole, a bright, red bird, the Pfingstvogel, or "Pentecost bird."

More Names for the Holiday

In many European languages the official name for the feast evolved from its oldest title, Pentekoste, the Greek word for "fiftieth." For example, in French it's Pentecôte, in Spanish Pentecostés, in German Pfingsten, and in Syrian Pentiqosti. The Slovenians call the holiday Binkosti, the Hungarians Pünkösd, the Danish Pintse. Many eastern Europeans call it the "Feast of the Holy Ghost" and the Romanians know it as Domineca Spiritului Santu, or "Sunday of the Holy Spirit." Among certain Middle Eastern Christians the festival is referred to as Id El-'Uncure, or "Feast of the Solemn Assembly."

Further Reading

Bradshaw, Paul F. The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Cowie, L. W., and John Selwyn Gummer. The Christian Calendar. Springfield, MA: G. and C. Merriam, 1974. Downman, Lorna, Paul Britten Austin, and Anthony Baird. Round the Swed- ish Year. Stockholm, Sweden: Bokförlaget Fabel, 1961. Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1999. Harper, Howard. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Ingersoll, Ernest. Birds in Legend, Fable and Folklore. 1923. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree Press, 1968. Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. "Pentecost." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Slim, Hugo. A Feast of Festivals. London, England: Marshall Pickering, 1996. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986. ---. "Christian Worship." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Re- ligion. Volume 15. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Tyson, Joseph B. "Pentecost." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Francis X. The Holyday Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1956.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

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
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also Whitsunday), a major Christian feast day commemorating the mythical descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, which the church regards as the beginning of the spread of Christianity. The feast occurs 50 days after Easter, usually in late May or early June. The faithful observe Pentecost and Whit-monday (the day after Pentecost) by adorning their homes with birch branches and praying for the dead, practices that evolved from pagan traditions.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Between May 10 and June 13 in West and between May 24 and June 27 in East; seventh Sunday after Easter
As recorded in the New Testament in Acts 2, it was on the 50th day after Easter that the Apostles were praying together and the Holy Spirit descended on them in the form of tongues of fire. They received the "gift of tongues"—the ability to speak in other languages—and immediately began to preach about Jesus Christ to the Jews from all over the world who had flocked to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot. (Pentecost, from the Greek word meaning "fiftieth," is also one of the names for the second of the three Jewish Pilgrim Festivals.) Christian Pentecost thus became not only a commemoration of the Holy Spirit's visit, but also the birth of the Christian Church. It was on roughly this same day, centuries earlier, that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai and the Jewish religious community got its start.
The English call it White Sunday, or Whitsunday, after the white garments worn on Pentecost by the newly baptized. Although it is not certain when Pentecost began to be observed by Christians, it may have been as early as the first century. The period beginning with the Saturday before Whitsunday and ending the following Saturday is known as Whitsuntide, or in modern times simply as Whitsun .
Whitsunday has been linked to pagan spring rites, such as the English custom of Morris dancing and the drinking of "Whitsun ale." In Scotland, Whitsunday was one of the Quarter Days. In Estonia and Finland, eggs are dyed as at Easter because their hens don't lay until this time. In Germany it is called Pfingsten, and pink and red peonies, called Pfingstrosen, or "Whitsun roses," are the symbols along with birch trees. Some churches lower a carved dove into the congregation and call this "swinging the Holy Ghost." Cattle are decorated and an overdressed person is said to be "dressed like a Whitsun ox." A holdover pagan game is called "hunting the green man," or Laubmannchen —a young man dressed in leaves and moss hides, and children hunt for him.
See also Kneeling Sunday; Pinkster Day
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BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 629
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


1. a Christian festival occurring on Whit Sunday commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost on the apostles
2. Judaism the harvest festival celebrated fifty days after the second day of Passover on the sixth and seventh days of Sivan, and commemorating the giving the Torah on Mount Sinai
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005