Pentecost Sunday is also known as Whitsunday (or Whit Sunday). The word Pentecost comes from the Ancient Greek word Pentēkostē, which mean ‘fiftieth day.’ According to church tradition in the West, Pentecost occurs approximately seven weeks or fifty days after Easter Sunday.
The Bible says that on the fiftieth day after Easter, when the apostles (approximately 120 of them), were gathered together to pray, the Holy Spirit descended on them. The Spirit entrusted them with the “gift of tongues” – the ability to speak and understand many other languages. Without hesitating, it is said that the apostles went out and immediately began to preach about Jesus Christ and his message, to people from all over the world.
It isn’t just the Christian community that celebrates Pentecost. Pentecost was a prominent feast day in the Jewish calendar before it became a Christian celebration. For the Jewish faith, Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism, and is known as Shavuot.
Pentecost is sometimes described by Christians today as the Birthday of the Church, as the coming of the Holy Spirit marked the beginning of the worldwide spread of the word of God.
Many churches across the United Kingdom have special Pentecost services which teach its history and the meaning of the celebration in the modern world. In London, a special Pentecost Festival is held over the Pentecost weekend. The festival features various events including music, sport, art, and cultural events, which brings the entire local community together.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.