Pentecost is a major religious observance in Austria, with only Christmas and Easter exceeding it in importance. Pentecost is also known as Whit Sunday. The following Monday, called Whit Monday, is a public holiday across the country.
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Pentecost comes anywhere from mid-May to early June, its exact date moving with that of Easter since it comes 50 days after Easter on the liturgical calendar.
The account of the events that Pentecost commemorates are recorded in the Bible in Acts 2:1-21. It was the Jewish Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after the Passover, and the Jerusalem believers were gathered in an upper room where they were praying and waiting for the promise of the Spirit.
Then, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit upon them, and they began to speak in other languages and evangelise the city. Over 3,000 were converted and baptised, and the Church began to fulfil Christ’s command of world evangelisation.
Pentecost is a three-day weekend that many Austrians take advantage of to go on a short vacation. Yet, it is certainly not yet the peak travel season, and the beautiful spring weather is very refreshing after the long alpine winter.
There are many special church services held throughout Austria on Pentecost. Baptisms, christenings, confirmations, and other church events are often scheduled, and symbols of the Holy Spirit, such as doves and tongues of fire are put on display.
Traditionally, homes would be decorated at this time of year with green branches and flowers, and many would wear new-bought clothes. Even today, many will eat a special “Pentecost bread” after Pentecost church services.
It’s also a tradition that some people will dress up with leaves and flowers wrapped around them, and some localities hold processions and events with folk songs, folk games, and free beer for all.