[pen-ti-kawst, -kost]
Pentecost [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 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.

Pentecost ([ἡμέρα], pentekostē [hēmera], "the fiftieth day") is one of the prominent feasts in the Christian liturgical year, celebrated the 49th day (7 weeks) after Easter Sunday—or the 50th day, inclusively, whence its name is derived from the Greek. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday. Historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot or the day, fifty days after the Exodus, on which God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. In the New Testment times, Pentecost now commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in the Book of Acts, Chapter . Pentecost is also called Whitsun, Whitsunday, or Whit Sunday, especially in the United Kingdom.


Descent of the Holy Spirit

In the biblical account, 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, were 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 phenomenon is described in :

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.

The phrase "a rushing mighty wind" is almost a literal translation of the Hebrew word ruah, meaning in Hebrew texts the Spirit of God. The author of the Book of Acts goes on to describe how the apostles spoke in languages they had not learned (xenoglossy). While visitors to Jerusalem from around the Roman Empire understood the languages spoken, some misunderstood and thought that the apostles were drunk.

The New Testament records that many Christian converts experienced the same extraordinary gifts. The modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements believe that these gifts are still given today when Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit in a personal Pentecost. Such Christians believe that when they 'speak in tongues' (practise glossolalia) they are engaging in the same activity as at Pentecost.

Baptism of the three-thousand

According to the Book of Acts, the experience of the Pentecost was noticed by all in the large crowd, causing confusion and 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?"

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 explained that these events confirmed David's prophecy. Peter then exhorted his listeners to turn to Christ. When Peter was asked what men should do he responded by saying "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." About three thousand responded to Peter's sermon and were baptized and were therefore "added" to the number of believers or the church.

Traditions and holidays

  • In Lebanon, Pentecost usually signals the end of the cold season. After mass, families head out to the wilderness or to the pine forests or olive groves to picnic and enjoy the spring weather. Swings are tied to olive, pine or cedar branches and children enjoy riding them all day.
  • In Denmark, it is rarely celebrated elaborately. However, it is still celebrated as a public holiday, and children have the following day off from school. Many Danes, especially youths, do not know the meaning of Pentecost.
  • In certain states of Germany, such as the predominantly Catholic states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, depending on when a school began classes for the year, Pentecost can be a two week break for students similar to a Spring break in the United States.
  • 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 Pasqua rosatum. The Italian name Pasqua 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. In the old industrial heartlands of the North of England, in particular Greater Manchester, the first Friday after Pentecost is known as Whit Friday and is marked by Whit Walks and is often the occasion for brass band competitions.
  • In Poland the Pentecost is called "the Green Holiday" - 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 the church is covered with fresh branches of green deciduous trees. Green branches are also placed on the outside banisters and doors of the church 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. This custom comes from the fact that on Pentecost 3000 people were baptized into the new faith. Green symbolizes new life and Pentecost is thought to be the birthday of the church.
  • In the Netherlands Pentecost is called "Pinksteren", and the Monday after is a national holiday. Since that Monday is the last holiday before Christmas, and the only one with a good chance to have decent weather, it is traditionally a day where fairs and festivals are held; most notably, Pinkpop, which derives part of its name from the Dutch name for Pentecost (Pinksteren).

Dates for Pentecost
Year Western Eastern
2002 May 19 June 23
2003 June 8 June 15
2004 May 30
2005 May 15 June 19
2006 June 4 June 11
2007 May 27
2008 May 11 June 15
2009 May 31 June 7
2010 May 23
2011 June 12
2012 May 27 June 3
2013 May 19 June 23
2014 June 8
2015 May 24 May 31
2016 May 15 June 19h
2017 June 4
2018 May 20 May 27
2019 June 9 June 16
2020 May 31 June 7

  • In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches, Pentecost is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the church year, and is second in importance only to Pascha (Easter). It is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast and Divine Liturgy on the day of the Feast. An extraordinary service called the Kneeling Prayer, is served on the night of Pentecost. This is a Vespers service to which are added three sets of long poetical prayers, the composition of Saint Basil the Great, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor (prostrations in church having been forbidden from the day of Pascha (Easter) up to this point). The churches are decorated with greenery, and among the Russians the clergy and faithful carry flowers and green branches in their hands during the services. Pentecost is a traditional time for baptisms. The week prior to the feast is known as "green week", during which all manner of plants and herbs are gathered. The Sunday of Pentecost is called "Trinity Sunday," the next day is called "Monday of the Holy Spirit," and Tuesday of Pentecost week is called the "Third Day of the Trinity. The Eastern Orthodox church considers the whole week following Pentecost to be an ecclesiastical feast (see Afterfeast) and is a fast-free week. The second Monday after Pentecost is the beginning of the Apostles' Fast (which continues until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29). Theologically, Orthodox do not consider Pentecost to be the "birthday" of the Church; they see the Church as having existed before the creation of the world (cf. The Shepherd of Hermas) The Orthodox icon of the feast depicts the Twelve Apostles seated in a semi-circle (sometimes the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is shown sitting in the center of them). At the top of the icon, the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, is descending upon them. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. Although Kosmos is crowned with glory he sits in the darkness caused by the ignorance of God. He is holding a towel on which have been placed 12 scrolls, representing the teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
  • In Sweden Pentecost is celebrated rarely. The Saturday is called "Pentecost Eve," and the following Sunday "Pentecost Day." The Monday is called "Second Pentecost Day," but since 2005, it is no longer a public holiday. The National Holiday - 6th June - was made a "Red Day" instead. "Red Days" are so called because the dates of holidays are coloured with red on Swedish calendars. In Cyprus, Pentacost corresponds with Kataklysmos, a commemoration of the Deluge. The largest Kataklysmos festival is held in Larnaka by the waterfront.

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, Luxembourg, parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Hungary. 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 also ceased to be a statutory holiday in France in 2005, where the abolishment led to strong protests. Also in Sweden Whit Monday is no longer a holiday and June 6 (Swedish National Day) has become a day off.

The ultimate origin of all customs associating Pentecost with greenery is ostensibly the Jewish holiday of Shavuot when it is customary to decorate synagogues with greenery. This holiday marks the time when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai on behalf of the Nation of Israel, and tradition holds that Mount Sinai, despite being in the wilderness of the Sinai desert, miraculously flowered and bloomed in honor of this occasion. The custom of decorating synagogues with greenery on Shavuot, mentioned in many halakhic works, commemorates the miracle, and may perhaps date back to the time of the Jewish Temple. The Mishna records that the Oxen leading the processions bringing "first fruits" to the Temple (which began on Shavuot) wore wreaths of Olive branches on their heads. (Bikkurim 3:3) While there are no mishnaic sources for the Temple itself having been decorated with greenery at that time, the Tractate of Midot records there having been one band of flowery engravings surrounding the altar, which may be connected with commemorating the same miracle. What's more, there is no Talmudic record of what was done with the said wreaths following the slaughtering of the oxen. It would seem quite probable that the wreaths would have remained ad loc, decorating the area, in one sense or another.

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.

Ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood are often held on Pentecost.


Pentecost falls on the same fixed calendar date every year, and is part of the Moveable Cycle of the ecclesiastical year. According to Christian 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 (see article on Computus for the calculation of the date of Easter). Pentecost falls in mid- to late spring in the Northern Hemisphere and mid- to late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Since the date of Easter is calculated differently in the North and the South, see Easter controversy, the two traditions will celebrate the feast on different days most years (though in some years both celebrations will coincide on the same day, as in 2007). The earliest possible date in the West is May 10 (as in 1818 and 2285), and latest possible date is June 13 (as in 1943 and 2038). In the East, the earliest possible date is May 24, and the latest possible date is June 27.

See also


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