The Holidays Celebrated In Colonial America

Whit Sunday and Whitsuntide

{ The Sunday which falls 50 days after Easter
          ~ or 10 days after Ascension Thursday }

  Whit Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter. The name has, at times been presented as the variation: White Sunday. This refers, some claim, to the white garments worn by those intending to be baptised on this Sunday. Others claim that the name refers to the appearance of the Holy Ghost to the disciples of Jesus, the Christ after His resurrection. John Mirk (circa 1382 to 1414), an Augustinian canon at Lilleshall Abbey in Shropshire, stated that: Good men and wimmen, this day (Dies Penthecostes) is called Wytsonday by cause the holy ghost bought wytte and wisdom into Crists dyscyples, and so by prechying after in al Christendom and fylled him full of holy Wytte.

  Whit Sunday is also known as Pentecost (i.e. 50th Day), and commemorates (for Christians) the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples following the resurrection of Jesus, and (for Jews) the giving of the Commandments to Moses by God, fifty days after the Passover and the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt.

  The name Whitsuntide refers to the week that follows Whit Sunday; each of the days being referred to as Whit Monday, Whit Tuesday, and so on.

  The first mention of Whitsuntide is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in the entry for the year 1067. The name hwitan sunnan daeg was used in the sentence: "Archbishop Aldred hallowed her queen at Westminster on Whit Sun Day." A cleric wrote out instructions for three young women who were preparing to become nuns. This piece of writing, called the Ancren Riwle from the year 1200, mentioned the name hwitmonedei, or Whit Monday, the second day of Whitsuntide.

  On Whit Sunday churches were decorated with boughs cut from oak and birch trees.

  The Irish believed that Whitsuntide was a time for bad luck and misfortune. They would avoid going near bodies of water for fear of drowning. They believed that the spirits of people who had died by drowning previously would rise up from their watery graves to attempt to persuade, or even force the living, to join them.

  Children and the elderly were believed more at risk of dying during Whitsuntide than at any other time of the year. A piece of grassy green sod would be dug up in a cemetery and placed near the head of any person who had become ill just before or during Whitsuntide in the belief that it would fool the angel of death into thinking that the person was already dead and in the grave, and therefore the angel would move on to someone else.

  A child born during Whitsuntide was either destined to die a violent death, or would him/herself cause another person to die a violent death. The parents of such a child born at this time, would attempt to get the prophecy out of the way as soon as possible. They would place an insect in the tiny hand of the baby and then close its little fingers over the insect so as to bring about the insect's death.

  Throughout Great Britain, and the English Colonies, Whitsun-Ales, or rather Whitsun Fairs, were held during the week of Whitsuntide. The fairs were filled with morris dancing, athletic competitions, and of course, much drinking and partying.

  Among people of African descent in America, the holiday of Pentecost became known as Pinkster. The name actually comes from the Netherlands. The Dutch word for Pentecost was Pinksteren, and perhaps since the Dutch were the primary importers of African slaves to the English Colonies in America, the Africans adopted the Dutch word, carrying it to America. Whereas Pinksteren was celebrated in the Netherlands as simply a religious feasting day, the Africans in America suffused their Pinkster holiday with singing, dancing and other cultural traditions brought from Africa.