MONDAY, MAY 24: Many Christians relaxed on Easter Monday—the day after Easter—seven weeks ago, and in the same way, many also relax and recognize today as Whit Monday, the day after Whit Sunday, or Pentecost. The Christian tradition of taking an extra day after a major holiday has dwindled over the years but many Christians continue to honor it in some way. (Wikipedia has details.)
Pentecost developed its alternate name in the English tradition, as many who were baptized on Pentecost in the English Christian Church wore white garments. The Monday following Whit Sunday, therefore, became “Whit Monday.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Whit Monday is known as “Monday of the Holy Spirit,” and liturgies feature many of the same hymns and themes as Pentecost itself—worshipping God in the form of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus’ followers. According to the Orthodox Church in America, the Holy Spirit “crowns prophets, divine Apostles and martyrs.” It is “the Fountain of goodness, through Whom the Father is known, and the Son is glorified.” (Read more on the OCA Web site.)
Whit Monday was a public holiday in the UK until 1967, although some countries—such as France, Germany, Greece and Austria—still recognize it as such. In many countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Whit Monday is a public holiday often used to hit the beach and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the holiday is Morris dancing and among the best places to see this dance is in the English village of Bampton in Oxfordshire, where a centuries-old Morris dance is performed. (Get the full history at the Bampton Morris Web site.) For more than 500 years—except in times of war—the Morris has been performed on “Whitsuntide” every year. The Morris dance, traditionally performed only by men, was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s works! There’s an independent Wiki page devoted just to identifying the Morris theme in Shakespeare.
Today, the dance is performed in groups. YouTube has a video clip from Bampton:
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)