MONDAY, MAY 28: Pentecost extends an extra day for Western Christians who mark Whit Monday. If you’re thinking that “Whit Monday” sounds nothing like “Pentecost,” you’re right. The original English nickname for Pentecost was “Whitsun,” a shortening of “Whit Sunday”—a phrase coined to describe the white garments worn by those newly baptized on the Pentecost feast. (Wikipedia has details.)
Whit Monday used to enjoy a more central place in many parishioners’ lives. It was a bank holiday in the United Kingdom until 1967 and was a day off work in many Catholic countries. (Henry Kirke White, an English poet, wrote an “Ode to Whit Monday.”) Today, only England, Wales and Ireland are left celebrating Whit Monday as a legal holiday. The Roman Catholic Church now lists this Monday as part of Ordinary Time, instead of ranking it within the octave of Pentecost.
To find the best Whit Monday observance still around, travel to St. Nicolas-de-Port, France. The townspeople of St. Nicolas-de-Port gather each Whit Monday at their main church, the Basilica of Saint Nicolas, at 3:30 p.m. for an elaborate mass that includes incense, jubilant music and pageantry. (Learn more from the St. Nicholas Center website.) Legend has it that a Crusader—the Duke of Rechicourt—was praying in his Turkish prison cell in December of 1240 when he was miraculously transported from prison to the entrance of the church of St. Nicolas-de-Port. In commemoration, some church-goers wear 13th-century costumes to church on Whit Monday, and some of the costumed parade through the nave while holding St. Nicolas relics. As the procession passes, each church member joins the festive parade. The procession ends with an anointing honoring St. Nicolas.
Eastern Christians will observe Whit Monday in one week, on June 4.