The Sacred and The Profane: Whitsuntide/Pentecost. Some secular and religious calendrical celebrations.


The Christian holiday of Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], “[the] fiftieth [day]”) is celebrated 50 (101-51) days from Easter Sunday, counting inclusive of Easter Sunday itself, i. e. 49 days or 7 weeks after Easter Sunday.[1][2] The holy day is also called “White Sunday” or “Whitsunday“, especially in the United Kingdom, where traditionally the next day, Whit Monday, was also a public holiday. In Eastern Christianity, Pentecost can also refer to the entire fifty days of Easter through Pentecost inclusive; hence the book containing the liturgical texts for Paschaltide is called the “Pentecostarion“.



The singing of Pentecost hymns is also central to the celebration in the Western tradition. Hymns such Hildegard von Bingen‘s “O Holy Spirit Root of Life”[29][30] are popular. Some traditional hymns of Pentecost make reference not only to themes relating to the Holy Spirit or the church, but to folk customs connected to the holiday as well, such as the decorating with green branches.[31]







O Holy Spirit, root of life, creator, cleanser of all things,

anoint our wounds, awaken us with lustrous movement of your wings.

Eternal Vigor, Saving One, you free us by your living Word,

becoming flesh to wear our pain, and all creation is restored.

O holy Wisdom, soaring power, encompass us with wings unfurled,

and carry us, encircling all,above, below, and through the world.


In Germany Pentecost is denominated “Pfingsten” and often coincides with scholastic holidays and the beginning of many outdoor and springtime activities, such as festivals and organized outdoor activities by youth organizations Above all, Pentecost is a day for the Confirmation celebrations of youths. Flowers, the wearing of white robes, or white dresses recalling Baptism, rites such as the laying on of hands, and vibrant singing play prominent roles on these joyous occasions, the blossoming of Spring forming an equal analogy with the blossoming of youth. The typical image of Pentecost in the West is that of the Virgin Mary seated centrally and prominently among the disciples with flames resting on the crowns of their heads. Occasionally, parting clouds suggesting the action of the “mighty wind”,[21] rays of light and the Dove are also depicted. Of course, the Western iconographic style is less static and stylized than that of the East, and other very different representations have been produced, and, in some cases, have achieved great fame such as the Pentecosts by TitianGiotto, and el Greco.


In Italy it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pasqua rosatum. The Italian name Pasqua rossa comes from the red colours of the vestments used on Whitsunday.

Traditionally, Whit Fairs (sometimes called Whitsun Ales)[49] took place.

A ‘Whitsun Ale’ was a parish celebration held originally to raise money for Church funds. The whole village would take a day off and as the name suggests a large quantity of ale would be brewed for the festival. The custom mirrored the courtly practice of holding feasts and tournaments at Whitsuntide as described by Thomas Malory.


A Whitsun Ale was a very big affair in most villages. A King and Queen of the Day would be appointed, there would be archery competitions, games and Morris Dancing. In 1557 St Mary’s Church in Reading paid for some of the performers: ‘Item payed to the morrys daunsers and the mynstrelles, mete and drink at Whytsontide, iijs. iiijd.’ The Gildhouse at Poundstock in North Cornwall is one of the very few buildings still standing where we know Whitsun Ales took place.

You can see it at



An edict of Queen Elizabeth I in 1569 gives us some idea of what games might have been performed:‘the shooting with the standard, the shooting with the broad arrow, the shooting at twelve score prick, the shooting at the Turk, the leaping for men, the running for men, the wrestling, the throwing of the sledge, and the pitching of the bar, with all such other games as have at any time heretofore or now be licensed, used, or played.’


Other customs such as morris dancing[50] and cheese rolling[51] are also associated with Whitsun. “Whitsunday” has been the name of the day in the Church of England. (The Book of Common Prayer only once uses the word “Pentecost” for the festival. Though some[who?] think that name derives from white clothes worn by newly baptised in Eastertide, it may well be seen as derived from “wit”, hence “wisdom”, the reference being to Holy Wisdom (Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sophia), referred to in Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom, with which the Holy Spirit has often been identified.

In Finland there is a saying known virtually by everyone which translates as “if one has no sweetheart until Pentecost, he/she will not have it during the whole summer.”

According to legend, King Arthur always gathered all his knights at the round table for a feast and a quest on Pentecost:

So ever the king had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost in especial, afore other feasts in the year, he would not go that day to meat until he had heard or seen of a great marvel. [53]

William Shakespeare mentions Pentecost in a line from Romeo and Juliet Act 1, Scene V. At the ball at his home, Capulet speaks in refuting an overestimate of the time elapsed since he last danced: “What, man? ‘Tis not so much, ’tis not so much! ‘Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio, Come Pentecost as quickly as it will, Some five-and-twenty years, and then we mask’d.”[57] Note here the allusion to the tradition of mummingMorris dancing and wedding celebrations at Pentecost.


Royal Oak Day (Oak Apple Day) was a public holiday celebrated in England on 29 May to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy, in May 1660.


Oak Apple Day was a time for dancing and parties. To show their support for the monarchy, people wore sprigs of oak leaves or a sprig with an oak apple on (gall produced in oak buds by wasps). On 29 May, children would challenge each other to show their oak sprigs or apples, and those not wearing one would face some form of punishment, varying from one place to another.

It is said that King Charles’ life was saved after the battle of Worcester in 1651, when he escaped from the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House in Staffordshire.



Castleton Garland Day is held on Oak Apple Day (unless this is a Sunday when proceedings will take place on the Saturday.) It is custom that has been celebrated in Castleton for hundreds of years, originally, possibly as a fertility rite, but today it is said to commemorate the restoration of Charles II. The Garland is 3 feet high and is made from a wooden frame to which small bunches of wild flowers and leaves are tied. It is worn by a man dressed in Stuart costume.

Nettle Day” – whipping with nettles

“The wise boy wore his oak leaves, armed himselves (sic) with a stinging nettle and carried a few dock leaves for first aid just in case”

oak apple day

It is said that King Charles’ life was saved after the battle of Worcester in 1651, when he escaped from the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House in Staffordshire.

The wearing of a sprig of oak on the anniversary of Charles’ crowning showed that a person was loyal to the restored king. Those who refused to wear an oak-sprig were often set upon, and children would challenge others to show their sprig or have their bottoms pinched. Consequently, this day became known as Pinch-Bum-Day. In parts of England where oak-apples are known as shick-shacks, the day is also known as Shick-Shack Day. It is also likely that the royal association conceals a pagan tradition of tree worship.

These days it is traditional for monarchists to decorate the house with oak branches or wear a sprig of oak on 29th May. In All Saints Church in Northampton, a garland of oak-apples is laid at Charles II’s statue. Whereas, in Grovely Forest, Salisbury, a procession takes place at first light, accompanied by the sound of horns. It is also traditional to drink beer and eat plum pudding – especially at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, which was founded by Charles II on this very day.

On or near this date, a curious figure called the Garland King rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession. His head and the upper part of his body are completely hidden by a ‘garland’ – a heavy wooden construction, shaped like a beehive and covered with flowers and greenery. On top of the garland is a small posy of flowers, which is called the ‘queen’. Behind the king rides his queen (at one time played by a man in woman’s clothes), accompanied by a band and children dressed in white. After pausing to dance at various points along the way, the procession arrives at the church and the garland is pulled up to the top of the church tower and fixed to a pinnacle. The ‘queen’ posy is then placed on the town war memorial.

These ceremonies, which have now largely died out, are perhaps continuations of pre-Christian nature worship. The Garland King who rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession, completely disguised in a garland of flowers which is later affixed to a pinnacle on the parish church tower, can have little connection with the Restoration, even though he dresses in Stuart costume. He is perhaps a kind of Jack in the Green and the custom may have transferred from May Day[1] when such celebrations were permitted again after having been banned by the Puritans.


In Worcester, the ‘Faithful City’, Oak Apple Day is commemorated by decorating the entrance gate to Worcester’s Guildhall with oak branches and leaves.

The Oak Tree is a symbol of England. The image of the Royal Oak can be pubs and hotels signs, on stamps and also on coins (£1). There have also been numerous naval ships, a train and a London underground station named ‘The Royal Oak’.

For details of events celebrating the whitsuntide festival, see the following websites: The Huntsman Cheadle Staffordshire 7th Beer Festival

Monday 29 May 2017 – Cheese Rolling at Coopers Hill

Competitors hurl themselves down the steep banks of Cooper’s Hill, chasing the giant Cheese! Cooper’s Hill, Near Brockworth. 12.00 midday (A46 Stroud-Brockworth Rd). Web:


The immensely popular South Cerney Street Fair and Duck Race takes place once again on Bank Holiday Monday, 29th May.  With more than 100 different stalls and attractions, visitors to this FREE event won’t be disappointed.  You can enjoy a wide range of craft stalls, live music, dance performances and children’s entertainment; and for visitors wanting quieter activities, the Village Hall Art Exhibition and Church Flower Festival will be open all day.

One of the day’s biggest highlights will be the now famous Duck Race at 3.30pm (the sight of hundreds of yellow plastic ducks bobbing along the river is a real treat!).

Refreshment is available throughout the day from a variety of food and drink stalls, or indulge in a cream tea in the vicarage garden.

Starting out as a small Church Fete over 30 years ago, the South Cerney Festival has grown enormously in recent years.  The Street Fair now rounds off a whole weekend of music, dancing and community events, helping to raise thousands of pounds for the Church and local organisations, charities and youth groups.  The Festival Weekend is run by a large army of volunteers and is a fabulous example of what can be achieved when the local community comes together.

The South Cerney Street Fair is open from 10.00 a.m until 5.00 p.m, on Monday 29th May.
Free parking for visitors will be available at the South Cerney Army Camp and Upper Up playing fields, with a FREE vintage bus running from the Army Camp to the Street Fair site.

More details about the Street Fair and all the events taking place over the weekend can be found on our


All Text relocated from wiki including all links for further research. All images from Wiki commons or pinterest.







~ by meanderingsofthemuse on May 25, 2017.

One Response to “The Sacred and The Profane: Whitsuntide/Pentecost. Some secular and religious calendrical celebrations.”

  1. Nice Article, with useful info, on still practiced , festivals…. Thanks for sharing 😉

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