Whitsun Customs: Whitsun, Pentecost (from Greek "pentekosté hemerá" = 50th day [after Easter]), the feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ and the beginning of the Christian Church's mission to the world. Accordingly, Whit Sunday is the principal day on and around which Confirmation is conferred in the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from its religious significance, confirmation has in Austria also become a secular feast of the family which is celebrated in accordance with a traditional programme (fiacre trip, visit to the Prater amusement park in Vienna). The theological significance of Whitsun was formerly symbolised by descending a carved wooden dove from an opening in the vault of the church ("Heiligengeistloch", "Heiligengeistschwingen"), a custom which is still practised in some places in Tirol.
While in former times noisy and riotous processions ("Pfingstschnalzen") were common around Whitsuntide, various villages, particularly in Upper Austria, celebrate the night from Whit Sunday to Monday as "Bosheitsnacht" ("Night of Mischief") (Unruhnächte), when young men engaged in all sorts of mischief. Customs like "Kranzelreiten" in Weitensfeld (Carinthia) and "Kufenstechen" (Slovene: "stehvanje"), which are practiced in various places in the Gail Valley, where contestants on horseback try to pluck wreaths or rings from poles as they gallop past, appear to be remnants of aristocratic tournaments. Processions of the "Whitsun King" ("Pfingstkönig"), formerly a widespread custom in Lower Austria, were re-introduced as a custom for school children at Patzmannsdorf in the inter-war period and at Arbesthal in the late 1970s.
Literature: L. Kretzenbacher, Ringreiten, Rolandspiel und Kufenstechen, 1966; G. Kapfhammer, Brauchtum in den Alpenländern, 1977; H. P. Fielhauer, Alte und neue Pfingstkönige in Niederösterreich, in: Jahrbuch des Österreichischen Volksliedwerkes 32/33, 1984.
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