The Feast of Pentecost is taken from the Greek word πεντηκόστη which means “the 50th,” referring to the fiftieth day after Passover and Easter. This would coincide with the harvest festival Shavuot the “Feast of Weeks in the Jewish calendar.”
In the Christian calendar, Passover played a part in several visits Jesus made to Jerusalem; but most famously, it marked the coming of the Holy Spirit, as “tongues like as of fire” upon the Disciples of Jesus along with the sound of rushing wind, as told in the New Testament Book of Acts Chapter 2.
Pentecost in Church History
This marked the beginning of the work of the Church following the Resurrection of Jesus. As the New Testament tells us that Jesus remained with his Disciples for 40 days following his Resurrection before his Ascension into heaven (celebrated last Sunday), this would mark ten days following the Ascension of Jesus. This event was associated with the Disciples speaking in other languages.
Many visitors to Jerusalem, who were likely there at the time for the Feast of Passover, were curious about the meaning of the flames, wind, and foreign tongues — some familiar to them. The Apostle Peter gave his first sermon, and the Church in Jerusalem grew in size from 120 believers to 3,000.
While Ascension Sunday is not as widely celebrated in the US — as it is in parts of Europe, especially Germany — neither is Pentecost Sunday, other than in more liturgical churches. But it is more widely observed in various regions of Europe.
In parts of Eastern Europe, it is known as Green Sunday or Green Holiday, where it is attended by wearing green and decorations with green branches — perhaps a reference back to the Jewish festival of Shavuot and its decoration of the synagogue with green. Pentecost is recognized as a bank holiday in the United Kingdom, where it’s known as Whitsun or Whitsun Day, meaning either White Sunday or the Sunday when whit or wisdom was brought upon the Disciples.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian