Pentecost is a Christian holiday that marks the day the Holy Spirit appeared to the apostles in Jerusalem during Shavuot, according to the Bible. It is celebrated on the seventh Sunday following Easter. Because Greek Easter typically falls on a different day than Western Easter, the people of Greece may celebrate this holiday separately from the rest of the world.
Pentecost is followed by Eastern Orthodox Whit Monday, another public holiday, and many Greeks take the three-day weekend as an opportunity to go on trips. Others celebrate by participating in multi-day religious festivals devoted to feasting and honoring the birth of the church. You can join in on these festivities, too, if you're planning to be in Greece during this holy time. Even people who aren't religious will find that Pentecost—which many describe as a second Easter—is a fun time to visit.
Tongues of Fire: The Story of Pentecost
You don't have to be religious to celebrate Pentecost in Greece, but you should know a little about the reason for the holiday. In the biblical story of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus (or seven Sundays in the church calendar), the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the church of Jerusalem during the feast of Shavuot, during which God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Because Jews traveled great distances to observe this festival, there were people from all over the ancient world speaking different languages and dialects, all gathered together.
As the apostles mingled with this crowd, the gospel stories relate that the Holy Spirit descended on them as tongues of fire, enabling them to preach to the assembled crowds, speaking to each person in a language he or she could understand. It's likely that the tradition of "speaking in tongues," practiced by some Christian churches, arose from this story.
The word comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which means the 50th day. It is considered the birthday of the Christian church for two reasons: The descent of the Holy Spirit completed the Holy Trinity, which forms the basis of Christian theology, and it was the first time that the apostles began to spread their faith beyond their small group of Jerusalem followers.
Celebrating the Birthday of the Church
Pentecost (or "Trinity Sunday") festivities begin on the Friday or Saturday before the holiday. Most public celebrations, which tend to be local and church-related, are held on Saturday. The larger the church, the bigger and more colorful the celebration.
There are no festive foods that are specific to the Pentecost holiday, but feasting and overindulgence is the order of the festival. As one of the Greek Orthodox Church's "great feasts," it's a period in which religious fasting is not only discouraged, but forbidden. If you attend a church service, you may be offered koliva, a dish of boiled wheat or wheat berries spread in flat baskets and decorated with sugar and nuts. Usually served at funeral services and memorials, it is also passed around through the congregation at the end of Pentecost services.
Additionally, the sweets and dishes that Greeks reserve for special occasions—including kourabiethes, a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread rolled in powdered sugar and cinnamon, and loukoumades, also known as Greek honey balls—are available in abundance.
Closures and Sales
Greeks don't typically celebrate Pentecost outside of religious observations. Instead, families take short trips to the coast or island destinations. As a result, most shops will be closed on Sunday in Athens and Greece's largest cities, but on the Greek islands and in resort areas, they're more like to be open because so many Greeks visit them during the holiday break.
The Monday following Pentecost—known as Agiou Pneumatos or Holy Spirit Day—is also a legal holiday in Greece and, as with Monday holidays throughout the Western world today, it has become a time for shopping the sales. Schools and businesses are closed, but shops, restaurants, and cafes for the most part remain open.
Planning for Pentecost
The Orthodox Churches of Greece and Eastern Europe use the Julian calendar, which is slightly different from the Gregorian calendar used widely in the Western world. Greek Pentecost dates for the coming years are:
- 2020: June 7
- 2021: June 20
- 2022: June 12
- 2023: June 4
If you plan to travel during this time, it would be wise to check local transportation and ferry schedules. Ferry schedules may be expanded to accommodate Pentecost travelers and urban transportation—like the Athens Metro and local bus services—will run their Sunday schedules throughout the holiday weekend, including Monday.