Pentecost Sunday is a moveable feast on the Catholic calendar: it is celebrated on a different day every year, exactly 50 days after Easter Sunday. Pentecost memorializes the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles as they were gathered in the Upper Room. It is the final day of the Easter season and is considered, to many, the birthday of the Catholic Church.
Beyond the traditional red vestments and liturgical dressings, Pentecost is a time of rich traditions around the world.
In Germany, picnics are a popular activity on Pentecost. It isn’t uncommon to see the doorways of taverns and homes decorated with birch branches and hear the ringing of cowbells both in the countryside and in the city. In some regions, fountains are draped in birch branches and flowers.
On Pentecost Monday, a traditional horseback procession called the Whitsun Ride is held each year in the Bavarian Forest. It is one of the largest horseback pilgrimages in Europe, with over 800 costumed participants on festively decorated horses. The riders are all men, and they gather together to commemorate the journey of a priest over 600 years ago who crossed treacherous terrain to offer a dying man last rites.
Italy: Pascha Rosatum
In Italy, Pentecost Sunday is known as “Pascha Rosatum” or “the Feast of Roses.” In churches and cathedrals throughout Italy, rose petals are scattered from the ceiling while the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung at the conclusion of the liturgy. The petals represent the tongues of flames that rested on Mary and the Apostles during the Pentecost.
Poland: The Green Holiday
Decorating with birch branches and other greenery on Pentecost Sunday is popular in Poland. The decorations go beyond just houses—cattle with wreaths of birch branches wrapped around their horns can also be seen during the holiday. In some churches, a carved dove is lowered into the congregation as part of a tradition known as “the swinging of the Holy Ghost.”
The Csíksomlyó pilgrimage is a well-known Hungarian pilgrimage that takes place each year during Pentecost. It is attended by 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims who travel to Csíksomlyó, Transylvania to pray before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with multiple miracles.
Russia: Trinity Sunday (Troitsa)
In Russia, Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday or Troitsa. The feast is heavily associated with Mary and is often considered a women’s holiday. Traditionally, girls wear crowns of flowers and woven birch twigs and attend a special holiday meal featuring fried eggs. Churches are filled with flowers, fresh greens and birch branches, while live birch trees are often decorated in ribbons and flowers.
This year, consider weaving a few nods to other traditions into your own Pentecost celebration. Doing so is a great way to participate in the rich tapestry of traditions our Church has to offer. And perhaps, while learning about other traditions from around the world, you might create a few of your own.
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