What Happened to Whitsun?

I don’t usually do two posts back to back but this popped into my head and I need to do it while it’s still the right time of year.

When I was a child the biggest Church festivals were Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival, and Whitsuntide. Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Harvest also tied in with school holidays. Whereas Christian churches still celebrate all these and some others throughout the year, the general population here in Britain seems to have forgotten all about Whitsun. Whitsuntide was the name given to the whole occasion with Whit Sunday and Whit Monday being the two main days. Here in Britain now, the weekend is always the last weekend in May, the Monday is an official holiday and the week always coincides with a half term school holiday. However, the weekend, the bank holiday Monday and the associated school holiday are now always known as Spring Bank Holiday.

So I asked myself how and when this happened. Younger people now, unless they are churchgoers, don’t even know the word Whitsun. I asked a few friends about this and we all had the same memories of Whitsun. It was huge! On Whitsunday you wore your very best clothes. If you had a new summer dress and new shoes, to replace last summer’s things you’d grown out of, they were worn for the first time to church on Whit Sunday morning. We girls sometimes wore little straw hats, ribbons in their hair or white gloves. The boys all had smart trousers, shirts and ties. It was wonderful and felt like the start of summer.

Presbyterian Whitsun Walk   Image result for whitsun 1950s

Whitsun walks in Wales 1950.

Image result for whitsun 1950s  Image result for whitsun 1950s

Sheffield 1952.                                                   Leyland, Lancashire 1950s.

There were often parties and parades that weekend (I lived in a tiny village so our celebration was mainly the church service) and in many towns in the north there were Whit Walks. Those of my friends who grew up in the North of England remember the Whit Walks with great fondness.

So when did Whit weekend and Whit Week become plain old Spring Bank Holiday – or Spring Bank as it’s generally referred to? According to Wikipedia, Whit Monday was officially renamed Spring Bank Holiday in 1972. Also according to Wikipedia Whit celebrations still take place in a few parts of the country.

‘In the North of England church and chapel parades called Whit Walks still take place at this time (sometimes on Whit Friday, the Friday after Whitsun). Typically, the parades include brass bands and choirs; girls attending are dressed in white. Traditionally, Whit fairs (sometimes called Whitsun ales) 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.’

This is a photograph of Manchester Whit Walk in 2010. Source Wikipedia.

So finally, for those who are not familiar with Whitsun, what exactly is it? Once more, I turned to Google for the answer

‘The name is believed to be a contraction of “White Sunday”.  Whit Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter, when Christians celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to the first followers of Christ.’

So there it is. A high point on the calendar at one time for everyone, in and out of church, Whitsuntide is now known simply as Spring Bank Holiday.