Pentecost 2015: History, Facts And Traditions

05/23/2015 08:17 am ET | Updated May 23, 2015

Pentecost marks the end of the 50-day Easter season for Christians and falls on Sunday, May 24 in 2015.

The second chapter of the Book of Acts in the Bible's New Testament provides the context for Christian Pentecost. The narrative describes the Holy Spirit descending to a group of followers who, upon receiving it, begin speaking in tongues:

"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 as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (King James Version)

Some also call the holiday the "birthday of the church" as it commemorates the establishment of the church through the Apostles' teachings on the gospel and the baptism of thousands of followers.

In Judaism
Also called Shavuot in Judaism, Pentecost is the 'Feast of Weeks' that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

'Pentecost' comes from the Greek word pentekostos and translates as 'fiftieth day.' Jews celebrate Pentecost 50 days after the first Passover seder, and Christians observe the day seven weeks, or 50 days, after Easter.

Some congregations decorate their churches with the color red to represent the "power and fire of the Spirit." Churches often welcome new members on Pentecost through baptisms, which explains why some refer to the day as "White Sunday" in reference to the white clothing commonly worn for baptism.

Spiritual Significance
Matthew L. Skinner, a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, wrote on the spiritual importance of Pentecost to Christians. He said:

Sunday's Pentecost observances are more than a celebration of the past. They are not merely an end to Easter or a chance to launch summer programming. They are not opportunities for stoking nostalgia about the church's supposed glory days. Who needs those?

Pentecost is an invitation to dream. For when a community of faith quits dreaming dreams, it has little to offer either its members or the wider world.

Like any good dream, these dreams involve adopting a new perspective on what's possible, rousing our creativity to free us from conventional expectations. They help us see that maybe what we thought was outlandish actually lies within reach. Maybe I can find freedom from what binds me. Maybe there can be justice. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe a person's value isn't determined by her income. Maybe the future of our economy or our society or our planet is not yet determined. Maybe God is here with me, even if my current struggles never go away.

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