Pentecost is one of the Christian feasts, celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus.
Pentecost is also called Whitsun, Whitsunday, or Whit Sunday in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking areas.
For most Christians, Pentecost represents the birthday of the Church, signified by the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The events took place on the day of the Pentecost, in Jerusalem, at 09:00 (“the third hour of the day,” according to Jewish timekeeping). The community of Christ’s disciples, approximately 120 people, was gathered “into an upper room” in a building that Tradition locates on Mount Zion. The Tradition also says that it was the same room where Jesus ate His Last Supper. The events are very well described in Acts 2:1-4:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
According to the Book of Acts, the experience of the Pentecost was noticed by all in the large crowd, causing confusion and inspiring awe:
“When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language…. Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? …Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”” Acts 2:6-12
Then the Apostle Peter, standing with the eleven other apostles, spoke to the crowd. He explained that these strange events had been predicted by the prophet Joel, and that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and exaltation to heaven had been prophesied by David. Peter then exhorted his listeners to turn to Christ. When Peter was asked what people should do, he responded by saying “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The Bible suggests that about three thousand responded to Peter’s sermon.
Customs for celebrating Pentecost
In Italy, it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues. The Italian name Pascha rossa comes from the red colors of the vestments used on Pentecost.
In France, it was customary to blow trumpets during Divine service, to recall the sound of the mighty wind that accompanied the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
In the United Kingdom, the gentry amused themselves with horse races. 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.
In Poland, Pentecost is called “the Green Holiday,” when people decorate their houses with green branches, which—according to tradition—are said to bring God’s blessing upon the home and the people living in it. Another custom, which is slowly becoming rare, is making processions to the fields, where the crops are blessed.
In Ukraine, Pentecost is called “Green Sunday.” The inside of churches are covered with fresh branches of green deciduous trees. Green branches are also placed on the outside banisters and doors of churches and people also place a green branch on the door of their homes. Clergy and altar boys also wear green vestments as do many in the congregation. Green symbolizes new life and Pentecost is thought to be the birthday of the church.
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, Poland, Belgium, parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Hungary.
Date of Pentecost
Pentecost does not fall on the same calendar date every year, yet according to Church tradition, Pentecost is always seven weeks after Easter Sunday; that is to say, 50 days after Easter (inclusive of Easter Day). Said otherwise, it falls on the eighth Sunday, counting Easter Day.
The earliest possible date is May 10, and latest possible date is June 13.