It’s Whitsun – Whit what?


Yesterday was Whit Sunday, which in the good old days would have meant today was a bank holiday and as a child I remember that’s when we would have a week off school as the half term holiday.

The good old days started in 1871 (a bit before my time) when Whit Monday became a bank holiday.  This continued until 1971 when the Spring Bank Holiday replaced it.


So what is Whit Sunday?  It is the seventh Sunday (50 days) after Easter and is the name used for the Christian festival of Pentecost -the fiftieth.  It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples after he had ascended into heaven.

This is described in the Bible:

‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they [the disciples] were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other tongues  as the Spirit enabled them.’

(Acts, chapter 2 verses 2-4, New International Version)

There is debate as to whether it is called ‘whit’ because those wishing to be baptised on that Sunday wore ‘white’ garments or whether ‘whit’ derives from ‘wit ‘and signifies the outpouring of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Over centuries the celebrations took over elements of a previous pagan festival. Whitsuntide, the week following Whitsunday, was one of three vacation weeks for the peasants in the middle-ages from service for their lords.  It was a time for celebration. This took the form of fêtes, fairs, pageants and parades with Whitsun ales and Morris dancing in the south of England and Whit walks and wakes in the north. In the north-west church and chapel parades called Whit Walks still take place  – sometimes on Whit Friday, the Friday after Whitsun.

Perhaps you have particular memories of what you did at Whitsuntide?

One Reply to “It’s Whitsun – Whit what?”

  1. I remember getting a new set of clothes and seeing church groups walking past our house.

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