Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], “the fiftieth [day]”) is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot. Later, in the Christian liturgical year, it became a feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ (120 in all), as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1–31. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described by some Christians today as the “Birthday of the Church”.
In the Eastern church, Pentecost can also refer to the whole fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, hence the book containing the liturgical texts for Paschaltide is called the Pentecostarion. The feast is also called White Sunday, or Whitsun, especially in England, where the following Monday was traditionally a public holiday. Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.
The Pentecostal movement of Christianity derives its name from the New Testament event.
Since Pentecost itself is on a Sunday, it is automatically a public holiday in Christian countries. Pentecost Monday is a public holiday in many European countries including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania (since 2008), (most parts of) Switzerland, Ukraine and also in the African nations Senegal, Benin and Togo.
In Sweden it was also a public holiday, but Pentecost Monday (Annandag Pingst) was replaced by Swedish National Day on June 6, by a government decision on December 15, 2004. In Italy and Malta, it is no longer a public holiday. It was a public holiday in Ireland until 1973, when it was replaced by Early Summer Holiday on the first Monday in June. In the United Kingdom the day is known as Whit Monday, and was a bank holiday until 1967 when it was replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May.
Pentecost is the old Greek and Latin name for the Jewish harvest festival, or Festival of Weeks (Hebrew חג השבועות Hag haShavuot or Shevuot, literally “Festival of Weeks”), which can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: חג השבועות, chag ha-Shavuot, Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10 ); Festival of Reaping (Hebrew: חג הקציר, chag ha-Katsir, Exodus 23:16 ), and Day of the First Fruits (Hebrew יום הביכורים, Yom ha-Bikkurim, Numbers 28:26 ).
The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Present were about one hundred twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15), including his core group of twelve Disciples (Acts 1:13, 26), his mother Mary and various other women disciples (Acts 1:14). Their reception of Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6:
“ And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. ”
While those on whom the Spirit had descended were speaking in many languages, the Apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy (“I will pour out my spirit”).