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(Redirected from Whit Sunday)
Manchester 2010 Whit Walks
Also calledPentecost (Western), Trinity Sunday (Eastern)
Observed byUnited Kingdom and some former colonies
TypeChristian, Public
Begins7th Sunday After Easter
DateEaster + 49 days
2023 date28 May
2024 date19 May
2025 date8 June
2026 date24 May
Related toPentecost, Whit Monday, Whit Tuesday, Whit Friday, Trinity Sunday

Whitsun (also Whitsunday or Whit Sunday) is the name used in Britain,[1] and other countries among Anglicans and Methodists,[2] for the Christian holy day of Pentecost. It falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples (as described in Acts 2). Whitsuntide, the week following Whitsunday, was one of three holiday weeks for the medieval villein;[3] on most manors he was free from service on the lord's demesne this week, which marked a pause in the agricultural year.[4] Whit Monday, the day after Whitsun, remained a holiday in Britain until 1971[5] when, with effect from 1972, the ruling Conservative Government decided to permanently replace it, following a five year trial period, with a Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May. Whit had been the occasion for many varied forms of celebration, and was of significant cultural importance. It was a custom for children to receive a new set of clothes, even among the poorest families, a tradition which continued well into the 20th century.[6] [7]

In the North West of England, church and chapel parades called whit walks still take place at this time (sometimes on Whit Friday, the Friday after Whitsun).[8] Typically, the parades include brass bands and choirs; girls attending are dressed in white. Traditionally, Whit fairs (sometimes called Whitsun ales[9]) took place. Other customs, such as Morris dancing, were associated with Whitsun, although in most cases they have been transferred to the Spring bank holiday. Whaddon, Cambridgeshire, has its own Whitsun tradition of singing a unique song around the village before and on Whit Sunday itself.[10]


The name is a contraction of "White Sunday", attested in "the Holy Ghost, whom thou didst send on Whit-sunday"[11] in the Old English homilies, and parallel to the mention of hwitmonedei in the early 13th-century Ancrene Riwle.[12] Walter William Skeat noted that the Anglo-Saxon word also appears in Icelandic hvitasunnu-dagr, but that in English the feast was called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding.[13] According to one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptised on that Sunday.[14] Moreover, in England white vestments, rather than the more usual red, were traditional for the day and its octave.[citation needed] A different tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church or chapel in new white dresses on that day. However, Augustinian canon John Mirk (c. 1382–1414), of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, had another interpretation:

Goode men and woymen, as ȝe knowen wele all, þys day ys called Whitsonday, for bycause þat þe Holy Gost as þys day broȝt wyt and wysdome ynto all Cristes dyscyples.[15]

Thus, he thought the root of the word was "wit" (formerly spelt "wyt" or "wytte") and Pentecost was so-called to signify the outpouring of the wisdom of the Holy Ghost on Christ's disciples.[16]

The following day is Whit Monday, a name coined to supersede the form Monday in Whitsun-week used by John Wycliffe and others. The week following Whit Sunday is known as "Whitsuntide" or "Whit week".[17]


As the first holiday of the summer, Whitsun was one of the favourite times in the traditional calendar, and Whit Sunday, or the following week, 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, Club Days and wakes in the north.[18] A poster advertising the Whitsun festivities at Sunbury, Middlesex in 1778 listed the following attractions:

On Whit Monday, in the morning, will be a punting match ... The first boat that comes in to receive a guinea...In the afternoon a gold-laced hat, worth 30s. to be cudgell'd for ... On Whit Tuesday, in the morning, a fine Holland smock and ribbons, to be run for by girls and young women. And in the afternoon six pairs of buckskin gloves to be wrestled for.[18]

In Manchester during the 17th century the nearby Kersal Moor Whit races were the great event of the year when large numbers of people turned the area into a giant fairground for several days.[19] With the coming of industrialisation it became convenient to close down whole towns for a week in order to clean and maintain the machinery in the mills and factories. The week of closure, or wakes week, was often held at Whitsuntide. A report in John Harlan and T.T. Wilkinson's Lancashire Folk lore (1882) reads:

It is customary for the cotton mills etc., to close for Whitsuntide week to give the hands a holiday; the men going to the races etc. and the women visiting Manchester on Whit-Saturday, thronging the markets, the Royal Exchange and the Infirmary Esplanade, and other public places: And gazing in at the shop windows, whence this day is usually called 'Gaping Sunday'.[18]

Whit Monday was officially recognised as a bank holiday in the UK in 1871, but lost this status in 1972 when the fixed Spring Bank Holiday was created.[5]

In literature[edit]

In film[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anon. "High Court Sittings: Law Terms". The Courts Service. Archived from the original on 3 October 2016. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  2. ^ The Book of Worship for Church and Home: With Orders of Worship, Services for the Administration of the Sacraments and Other Aids to Worship According to the Usages of the Methodist Church. Methodist Publishing House. 1964. p. 126. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  3. ^ The others being Yuletide, the week following Christmas, and Easter Week, the week following Easter that ended at Hocktide (Homans 1991).
  4. ^ George C. Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century, 2nd ed. 1991:369.
  5. ^ a b Banking and Financial Dealings Act, 1971, Schedule 1, para 1.
  6. ^ "Whit Monday in the United Kingdom". www.timeanddate.com.
  7. ^ "The nostalgia column with Margaret Watson". Dewsbury Reporter. May 20, 2017.
  8. ^ "Whit Friday: Whit Walks". saddleworth.org. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  9. ^ Liz Woods. "Feasts and Festivals". feastsandfestivals.blogspot.com.
  10. ^ Nigel Strudwick. "Reviving the Whaddon Whitsun Song". whaddon.org.
  11. ^ Skeat, Walter William (1898) [1882]. An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (3rd ed.). Clarendon Press. p. 708. ISBN 978-0-19-863104-0. the Holy Ghost, whom thou didst send on Whit-sunday; O. Eng. Homilies, i. 209, 1. 16.
  12. ^ Both noted in Walter William Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. "Whitsun".
  13. ^ Skeat.
  14. ^ Campion, William Magan (1870). The Prayer book interleaved with historical illustrations and explanatory notes arranged parallel to the text. Vol. 5. p. 125. Retrieved 2017-06-05.
  15. ^ Theodore Erbe (editor) (1905). Mirk's Festial: a Collection of Homilies, Kegan Paul et al., for the Early English Text Society, p.159 accessed 15 December 2014 at Internet Archive.
  16. ^ Anon (29 May 1869). "Whitsuntide". The Manchester Times. Manchester, UK.
  17. ^ Anon. "Whitsuntide". The Free Online Dictionary. Farlex Inc. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  18. ^ a b c Roud, Steve (31 March 2008). The English Year (eBook). ePenguin. ISBN 978-0-14-191927-0.
  19. ^ Dobkin, Monty (1999). Broughton and Cheetham Hill in Regency and Victorian times. Neil Richardson. ISBN 1-85216-131-0.