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Celebrate Whitsun Sunday 15th May



In this article we explore:

  • The meaning of Whitsun and Pentecost
  • Whitsun customs
  • Links with pagan Beltane
  • How you can celebrate Whitsun

Whitsun Sunday, or ‘Whitsunday’ occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday. In the Christian calendar it marks the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles of Jesus. Some people believe the term ‘Whitsun’ comes from ‘white’, meaning the white robes of those who came to be baptised, or the tradition of the women of the parish coming to church in new white dresses.

Another meaning is connected to ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom’, which came as a gift from the Holy Spirit.  The festival is also called ‘Pentecost’, meaning the Fiftieth Day. It has links with an older Jewish festival concerning the giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai.  Either way, Whitsun or Pentecost is about the outpouring of divine power, onto humans.  Some Christians consider that it marks the true birth of the Church




The story of the Pentecost is recounted in the second chapter of the Book of Acts in the New Testament.  About a hundred and twenty of the followers of Jesus, including the twelve apostles, his mother Mary, other women disciples and his brothers were all gathered together in an upper room.  Here is the quotation from Acts 2:1-6:

‘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 Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.’  

The ‘Pentacostal’ movement in Christianity takes its name from this event.  It emphasises direct personal experience of God, in the same way that the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples.




Traditionally this was a holiday, with fetes and parades, although these have largely now been moved to Spring Bank Holiday, at the end of May.  Still, you may find Morris dances and other village traditions in certain places.  Other customs include:

  • Priests and celebrants wear red and churches are decked in red to honour the ‘holy fire’ that descended
  • This is a favourite time for Confirmation – confirming the faith into which one has been baptised
  • Red flowers are placed around the church, reflecting the renewal of life
  • In some parts of Europe green branches are brought into the church
  • Trumpeters may echo the sound of the Holy wind
  • In Italy it was customary to scatter red rose petals, representing the tongues of fire that descended upon the apostles
  • According to legend, King Arthur had a custom that at the Feast of Pentecost he would not sit down to his meal until he had heard or seen of a great marvel



The ancient pagan festival of Beltane celebrates the start of summer, at the beginning of May.  There are several themes linking this with Whitsun.  Firstly, the idea of divine fire is very much present at Beltane, symbolic of the returning sun.  Secondly, although Beltane is a fertility festival, the underlying theme is the resurgence of life – such life is always divine in nature, even though it manifests practically.  Thirdly, both Whitsun and Beltane are about a deep joy in life, that comes from being connected to powers greater than ourselves.




There are several things you can do to benefit from the spirit of the festival:

  • Spend some time alone in a place that you find especially inspiring. Meditate, and ask for your own direct experience of divinity – this could come though angels or spirit guides
  • Fill your home with beautiful flowers, especially red ones, to remind you of celestial fire
  • Decorate your home with greenery
  • Seek out and support any local customs
  • Whatever your spiritual beliefs, take Whitsun as an opportunity to re-dedicate yourself, as your own personal confirmation.  Light a red candle.  Dissolve a drop of frankincense oil in a teaspoon of olive oil and anoint yourself on the forehead, with the words ‘I pledge myself to the sacred and am open to inspiration’
  • Look for a ‘marvel’ in the tradition of King Arthur.  This means looking for something wonderful, close by you, or in the news, to make you appreciate how life regenerates and even that miracles happen



In this article we have discovered the meanings of Whitsun and Pentecost and looked at ways, ancient and new, to mark the arrival of divine fire.  Feeling connected to the Holy Spirit is a wonderful thing, but what if that seems a million miles away?  If you are locked into a ‘dark night of the soul’, if your faith and inspiration have run dry and you are all alone?  Then you need help and support from one of our insightful and spiritually aware readers.  Soon you will realise there is more to life, and smile again.




PUBLISHED: 11 May 2016

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