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Pentecost Tradition Concord: Christian and Pagan Rituals

Miklós Verseghi-Nagy 2020.05.31.
Christian Pentecost feast involves pagan traditions such as fertility procession

Pentecost is a Christian feast, 50 days after Easter. The feast marks the event when the disciples received the Holy Spirit 10 days after Jesus ascended to Heaven and promised to send the “Comforter.” In the early church, this was the awakening of the Christian communities’ establishment. Therefore, Pentecost is also the feast of the Christian Church’s inception. Both Christian and pagan elements are vivid in folk traditions.

Pentecost is a moving-date feast- the date ranges between May 10th and June 13th, depending on the date of Easter. In 2020, Whitsun Sunday is on May 31st. The open-air museum in Szentendre invites visitors to look at wonders of our cultural heritage (though regular programs will not take place).

“Short-lived as the Pentecost kingship”

Since the Middle Ages, in many regions of Europe, celebrators elected the ‘King of Pentecost.’ The winner of a horse-race or the best performing man of a competition requiring different skills became the king. During the following year, villagers invited him to all parties and weddings by courtesy.

In the Hungarian language, since the 16th century, we use the phrase ‘as short-lived as the Pentecost kingship’ – which refers to something that lasts only for a very short time.

Queen of Pentecost, procession

Girls and women also joined the spree, singing, chanting, and dancing during a procession in the village, moving from house to house. Sometimes they appointed a queen, either the youngest girl or the prettiest. This tradition, based on pagan origin, relates to fertility. At the end of the day, the procession turned into a joyful dance party, men and women joining together.

As a sign of courtship, men secretly placed peonies in the windows of women’s houses.

UNESCO Village Hollókő to Reopen, Celebrate Pentecost

Soothsaying and wizardry

In order to keep evil away, people decorated houses, fences, and stables with green limbs. In some regions, they also set up the maypole at this time (in other places they set it up on May Day). A maypole is a tall wooden pole, erected as the symbol of nature’s revival.

Related to the feast, the tradition embraces weather and crop forecasts.

According to traditional beliefs, extraordinary healing powers are associated with the dew that falls at Pentecost dawn. People walked barefoot on the grass to access the blessing of Pentecost dew. Girls bathed in the dew before sunrise to make their skin beautiful.

Featured image: Kourim / Czech Republic – June 9, 2019. Traditional Pentecost procession of little queens – young girls in white folklore dresses singing and going house to house. Source: Shutterstock, by Rezi Koudelkova

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