Whit Monday

Whit Monday, or Pentecost Monday, is a Christian holiday. It is the day after Pentecost, also known as Whit Sunday or Whitsunday, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament of the Bible.

The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
©iStockphoto.com/davidsorensen

What Do People Do?

There are a number of customs associated with Whit Monday. Cheese rolling and throwing competitions are held in some parts of England. In other parts of the country, Whit walks, which are parades led by local brass bands, clergy, dignitaries and local organizations, are held. The walks are often concluded by various activities that include competitions, dancing and food.

In the United States some churches organize Whit Monday prayer rallies, which include prayers and street marches. In France it is a holiday that is respected by many citizens. In 2005 millions of workers stayed at home during Whit Monday, despite the government's cancellation of the holiday, causing a halt in public transport and the closure of many municipal offices. The French government recently reinstated Whit Monday as a public holiday, while retaining a more flexible Day of Solidarity.

Public Life

Whit Monday is a public holiday in some places around the world, including countries in Europe such as Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway. Whit Monday is not a federal holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Background

Christian Pentecost commemorates the Holy Spirit’s visit to the apostles who received the “gift of tongues” on the 50th day after Easter.  It also marks the birth of the Christian Church. Although it is not certain when Pentecost was first observed by Christians, it may have been early as the first century. Pentecost occurs roughly seven weeks after Easter Sunday, or 50 days after Easter, including Easter Day. The Easter date depends on the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox. Like Pentecost, Whit Monday is movable because it is determined by the Easter date.

Whit Monday used to be one of the major annual holidays in Pennsylvania Dutch country in the United States. From around 1835 to just after the Civil War, Whit Monday was referred to as the “Dutch Fourth of July” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where people came to eat, drink and be entertained. Whit Monday was once a public holiday in Ireland and was a bank holiday in the United Kingdom until 1967, when it was formally replaced by a fixed spring holiday on the last Monday in May in 1971.

In some Orthodox churches, Whit Monday is observed after the date set by the western churches. This is because some Orthodox churches still observe holidays according to the Julian calendar, which preceded the Gregorian calendar adopted by many western churches.

Symbols

Whit Monday gets its English name from Whitsunday, or Whitsunday, which referred to the white garments worn on Pentecost by the newly baptized. The symbols of Pentecost are those of the Holy Spirit and include flames, wind, the breath of God and a dove.

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