Anyway, except for my aunt, none of us are regular churchgoers, and as it won't come up much in daily life again, I was going to give this particular bit of ignorance a pass. Once we get going on all the things I don't know about Christian doctrine, we will never stop, and I kind of figure that all the people who really want to know this stuff already do, and those who don't, well, don't.
But in the odd way that things converge, it turns out that Whitsunday, a word that was bobbing around in my brain in my last post on 'whit,' is actually just another word for Pentecost. I may be slow, but I can take a hint, so here we go.
All right. A Jewish festival before it was a Christian one. You knew that, right? I thought it was correlated with Easter, but it actually refers to the fiftieth day after Passover. 'Pentecost' comes from the Greek pentekoste hemera, meaning 'fiftieth day', and though I had been thinking of the Koine Greek of the early Christian New Testament, it was actually the Hellenized Greek Jews who came up with the term. In Hebrew, Pentecost is Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, celebrating the end of a period after Pesach, or Passover. It is both an ancient harvest festival and the day designated by Jewish tradition as the day the Torah was given to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai.
You can see that, as with many holidays, there is a bit of an overlay of one tradition upon an older one, so it may be no surprise that the fledgling Christian faith might seek to distinguish this day as its own in some way as well. For Christians, Pentecost is celebrated as the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles during Shavuot and filled them with the ability to preach their faith in the resurrection of Christ. The tradition has it that they were miraculously able to speak in the languages of all the people they met that day. The speaking in tongues of Pentecostal Christians comes from this tradition.
Whitsunday is a British name for the Christian holiday rather than the Jewish one. It pretty clearly means White Sunday, though it is not entirely certain why white is part of it all. A pretty good chance is that it is connected to the idea of purity, and I've read that it was when, after a period of penance following Easter, sinners were able to return to the fold, but also that Whitsunday is the day when the baptized undergo therites of Confirmation in their faith, and white is the color of the new initiate.
There is also the possibility that Whitsunday is itself an overlaying of one tradition on another, and that there may have been a pagan British celebration of the coming of summer, in which young women dressed in white to invoke a "white, clear summer sun". This last I gleaned from an Anatoly Liberman post, in which Whitsunday comes up in article about Etymology as a Battlefield, in which he tells us firmly that Whitsunday has nothing to do with wit. Nor is it etymologically related to the German Pfingsten, though they mean the same thing.
This last I might have suspected even without a noted etymologist's help...
|British pagans celebrating the,uh, Autumn Equinox, but you see my point.|