Why do Christians actually celebrate Pentecost? Many people enjoy the long weekend without knowing the deeper meaning of the Christian festival. A detailed look at the holidays reveals their true meaning. You can find out more about it here at FOCUS Online.

“Jesus was crucified”, “Mary went to heaven”, “It has something to do with the resurrection, right?”, “Something to do with palm branches…”

Surveys regularly show that the majority of Germans know little about the background of Pentecost. The Catholic News Agency (KNA) answers some important questions about the Christian high festival, which is celebrated this year on May 19th and 20th.

First of all, the practical: Whit Monday is a public holiday throughout Germany, even though there have often been initiatives to change this – for example from business associations. Many other European countries also have a non-working Whit Monday. In France it was abolished in 2005 but reintroduced in 2008.

In Italy, with the exception of South Tyrol, and therefore also in the Vatican, Whit Monday is not a public holiday, as is the case in most countries outside Europe. Pentecost Sunday is not a public holiday, which means that employees do not receive a holiday bonus on that Sunday.

Pentecost is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, who had been waiting with Mary in the Upper Room. The Solemnity of the Catholic Church is always celebrated 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Ascension Day.

The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek “Pentekoste hemera” (fiftieth day). The story of Pentecost probably goes back to the Jewish festival “Shavuot,” which celebrated the first harvest of the year.

Luke describes the Pentecost event in Acts like this:

“Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, like a violent storm, and it filled the whole house where they (the disciples) were. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, dispersing themselves; one settled on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign languages ​​as the Spirit inspired them.”

In Jerusalem, this strange event attracts a curious crowd: Jews from all over the country, many from the diaspora, including Egyptians, Romans, Cretans and Arabs. They are “beside themselves with amazement” because everyone hears the disciples speaking in their own native language.

Pentecost is considered the birthday of the church. According to church teaching, the Holy Spirit is supposed to keep the person, word and work of Jesus alive. The language miracle shows that the message is important for the whole world. Like Christmas and Easter, the High Festival in Germany has two public holidays.

Annual ordinations take place in many Catholic dioceses. In addition, the Pentecost campaign of the Catholic Eastern European relief organization Renovabis ends with the collection of donations in all church services. Furthermore, Pentecost is hardly celebrated in most western parts of the world.

There is no theological reason for the second holiday. Catholic parishes from Germany now mostly use the day for ecumenical celebrations and initiatives together with Protestant communities.

Traditionally, many church youth groups and associations also use the Pentecost weekend for camps and similar large events. In some parts of Germany, the so-called “Night of Unrest” is celebrated on the night of Whit Sunday to Whit Monday, during which evil spirits are supposed to be driven out. This becomes apparent when neighbors play pranks on each other. For example, they hide things from each other or block house entrances with flower boxes.

Compared to Christmas and Easter, few customs have developed. Pentecost has always been celebrated as a spring festival. These include field rides and processions that are intended to bring blessings to the new seeds. In some areas, especially in the Middle Ages, pigeons were pulled up through a hole in the church roof to vividly represent the Holy Spirit, who was difficult to understand. In other churches it rained rose petals to remind us of the tongues of fire.

In some regions there are also Pentecost customs that are similar to May customs. This includes all sorts of practical jokes on the night of Whit Monday or setting up a decorated tree on the wall of your loved one’s house. The nationally best-known customs include the Whitsun parade in Kötzting in the Bavarian Forest on Whit Monday and the jumping procession in Echternach, Luxembourg, on the Tuesday after Pentecost.

Since the “Holy Spirit” is difficult to understand, he was first imagined as a young girl and later as a man with three faces. The dove has been the symbol of the Holy Spirit since the late Middle Ages. Even in the Old Testament, Noah had pigeons come up from the ark to test whether the flood was over. The connection to the Holy Spirit emerged in the New Testament, with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.

Matthew says: When Jesus came out of the water, “the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove.” But the pigeon is also important in other cultures: Since ancient times, it has been considered a symbol of gentleness, simplicity and innocence – because it was assumed that the pigeon had no bile and was therefore free from all evil and bitterness. In ancient India and among some Germanic tribes it was considered a “bird of souls”. The cooing animals are also sacred in Islam because they are said to have protected the Prophet Mohammed while he was fleeing.

In February 2018, the Vatican introduced a new Marian feast: Mary, Mother of the Church. It is celebrated worldwide on the Monday after Pentecost. However, regions in which Whit Monday is a customary holiday that should not be replaced by the new festival are expressly excluded.