Do you remember the Whit Monday Bank Holiday?? Those of you who are of ‘a certain age’ most definitely will. It was scrapped in 1972 and replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday of May. It is certainly much easier for a multi cultural and diverse population to understand the concept of Spring as opposed to that of Whit.
Whitsun is the name of the Christian festival that begins on Whit Sunday and lasts through the following week. No cards, no gifts, no chocolate eggs, no general razzmatazz. It is one of the types of festivals most religions have and tend to keep to themselves these days.
Whit Sunday is more generally referred to as Pentecost in Christianity, which means 50 days in the original Greek. The actual event happened 50 days after the first Easter Day and celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples.
Jerusalem was crowded with Jews from all over the known world at that time and they had gathered for Shavuot, the celebration of the wheat harvest. Going to the Temple in Jerusalem for festivals was believed to be extremely holy for Jewish people.
The story of Pentecost can be read in the New Testament, Acts 2 v 1-31. It tells of how the main followers of Jesus, (remember they were all Jews), were probably still in hiding in one house after the happenings of Easter. Whilst they were praying together, something amazing happened. The story tells that tongues of fire rested on each of them, rushing winds filled the house and they were all filled with a wonderful new confidence in their belief about Jesus being the Messiah, God’s chosen one.
They all ran outside and began preaching about Jesus to everyone they came across. The miracle of that day was not just that the Spirit gave them the strength they needed to witness to their faith in Jesus but that they could speak in all the languages needed for the multinational crowd to understand them.
Unsurprisingly, they were accused of being drunk and disorderly. Clearly, they were not and their words must have been extremely powerful as they were ‘filled with the Spirit ‘ and over 3,000 people were baptised as believers on that day.
Over the years, Shavuot became known as Pentecost as the newly baptised Jews had to separate themselves from the Jewish faith and gradually came to be known as Christians or followers of Christ.
Pentecost sounds nothing like Whitsun. That word came about as the Sunday of Pentecost became a very popular day for people to become baptised into the Christian church or receive their first communion. People doing either of these always wore white, hence the name ‘whit’. If you happen to be near a Roman Catholic or Anglican Church on Sunday, look out for people wearing white clothing as they will have been baptised or confirmed.
Traditionally in the UK, children used to receive a new set of clothes at Whitsun and as new clothing in times past was not very common, it became a very special day. Workers would have the week off, there might be special events in the towns and countryside, special walks were instituted and it was a very jolly time. Fetes, fairs, brass bands, choirs and Morris dancing are just some of the activities that still take place in some towns. Watch out for anything like this where you live. I will be joining a Pentecost Picnic in Priory Park as churches in Hornsey share time together and witness to our faith.
On Sunday, 28th May, Pentecost will be celebrated in all the Christian churches in the UK. It will not be the great day of national celebration and festivity that it used to be but all the churches will be giving thanks for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit which marked the beginning of the spread of the belief in Jesus Christ as God’s son, as people became emboldened to become missionaries all over the world.
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