Whit weekend is usually the first holiday weekend of the year with any hope of decent weather, and a fine Whit Monday (now renamed the Late Spring Bank Holiday) will see families flocking to the coast or countryside.
THE ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL
Pentecost or Whitsun is observed on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The word Pentecost has its roots in the Greek "pentekoste" meaning the fiftieth day after Easter. Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament. The recent adoption of a Late Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May is an attempt to deal with the fact that Whitsuntide is a moveable feast dependent on the date of Easter. Although it is no longer necessarily at the church's Whitsuntide, the general public still refers to this holiday as "Whit Monday."
CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
Two main traditions persist, particularly in the North of England - Whit Walks and Whitsun Ales. Whit weekend, being a three-day break, is, like May Day, an important date on the Morris-Dancing calendar, and it also marks the start of the Well Dressing season.
Whit Walks are now confined almost exclusively to the industrial towns of northern England although they were once much more widespread.
The whole community assembles at a central point - usually a school or church - and parades around the town or village. The parades will be led by a brass band with the clergy and local dignitaries, followed by the uniformed organisations - Scouts and Guides, Boy's Brigade etc., and finally local families all in their best new clothes with the girls dressed in white, Whitsun being a corruption of White Sunday. The Whit Walkers will very likely make their way to the local green or playing field and there the "Whitsun Ale" will begin.
A Whitsun Ale is, despite its name, not a type of beer! Whitsun Ales are country fairs, with sports and competitions, Morris dancing displays, music and of course socialising, eating and drinking, in fact a major event on the social calendar.
After the Civil War (English, not American) the Puritan government banned all types of merrymaking but after the Restoration of Charles II, Whitsun Ales became a major event - helped no doubt by the fact that Charles was born on a Whit Monday and so encouraged the celebration. The Ales are often sponsored by a pub or brewery, giving rise to the misconception that the event is named for the beer!
How beautiful it is to do nothing and rest afterwards...........
I remember the days when we used to walk with the Sunday School on Whit Friday and in later years it was moved to Whit Sunday. Some of my early memories are getting tar on my new white socks and popping tar bubbles ! it's never warm enough now to do that lol.
Each Church had a brass band and we walked in the morning and then the afternoon was spent on the sports field or if you were lucky a coach trip to Southport.
The Catholic Church used to walk on Whit Sunday and the streets would be lined with people watching the processions.