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When Wilson's Whit `wisdom' changed our holiday forever; Reverend J Aelwyn Roberts of Haulfre Vicarage in Llandegai, near Bangor,harks back to a time when the Spring Holiday was a religious occasion of equal importance to Christmas.

Byline: Reverend J Aelwyn Roberts

I CAN'T begin to tell you what a happy joyous day of family reunion the Feast of Pentecost used to be in our little parish of Llandegai. Our church would be full of children once again,our grown up parish children would come back and bring their own children with them. It was a festival equal only to Christmas.

Our children in the parish of Llandegai, who had been brought up in the church, would have been married and would have moved away to live, but they would all somehow plan to come back to their old haunts at Whitsuntide. They would bring their spouses and their children with them.

Like St Peter on the Mount of the Transfiguration,all the older members would want to say: ``Lord,how good it is that we are here''.

But this was 20 years or more ago and before Harold Wilson went and spoilt it all. Wilson frustrated,like many other people, with a Pentecost date that fluctuated and changed from early May to mid June,decided to set up his own Whitsun. The date of his new Whitsun would be dependable and static and could be celebrated on the same week of the same month every year.

He decided the last Monday in the lovely month of May would be a good time to have it and that it could be called the Spring Holiday.And, said the then-PrimeMinister, while we are at it, let's also hitch the school half term holiday to this new Whitsun instead of to this unreliable church Pentecost one. And so a new holiday was born and Wilson saw that it was good.

Almost immediately, the new- fangled holiday made a difference to the congregation in our church on Pentecost Sunday and to all the churches in the country. Pentecost was no different from any other Sunday now. Our children still come home to Llandegai and still bring their children home to show us,but no longer on Pentecost Sunday. They come now on Wilson's spring holiday.

Yes! I hear you Harold,and I do agree that you have a case. Hundreds of years ago, the church set its date for Easter after a great deal of deliberation. It was ordained at the Council of Nice a in 325 that Easter should always be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox. So this means that Easter can fall on any day between March 22 and April 25 and Whitsun, which occurs 50 days later, can fall on any day between May 11 and June 15.

When Pentecost is early, the weather is often too cold to sit on beaches. I have no doubt that Wilson had to listen to groans and complaints from his tax-paying tourist industry leaders. And I agree the church should have done something about it and didn't.

A church that has not the slightest idea of the day,or the week,or the month,or even the year its founder was born has no right to be so dogmatic about the date of His death and Resurrection. If there is one thing the Bible tells us,it is that Jesus could not have been born in the year 0 BC or the year 1BC.

Theologians of all denominations place the birth of Christ as somewhere around the year 6 AD. Christmas for the first centuries was celebrated on January 12 until some very kind old bishop went and changed it so that it would fall on the 25 December which, at that time, was the great pagan feast of the Birth of the Sun. And he changed the date for a very good reason. But it's such a shame it had to happen.

The lesson of Pentecost is so easy to understand and so comforting for all Christian people. Jesus had instructed His disciples to stay together in one place. He would ascend into Heaven and shortly afterwards send His Holy Spirit to guide them and strengthen them. They stayed together behind locked doors - terrified.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down upon them as flames of fire and they were all transformed. They found they could speak different languages. They were different men altogether.

These ignorant,illiterate Galileean fishermen came out of hiding. They took to the newly-built Roman roads, they brazenly went out onto the high streets and town hall steps of as many towns in as many countries as they possibly could,proudly preaching Christ, their master, who was crucified and rose again on the third day.

It was reported they were turning the world upside down. Even the learned Greek doctors were now crowding to hear the preaching of these fishermen of three years ago.

They were also able to write beautiful writings. Fisherman Peter's fourth gospel is considered a classic by linguists in whatever language it has been translated.

Today,people who do not profess to be Christians read the work for the beauty of its language. The men who were afraid for their lives had been made fearless. Many of them were arrested and put to death, but they all died as proud martyrs.

St Peter, when told he was sentenced to be crucified,asked his executioners if he could be crucified head down so that he could offer a small penance to his master for his earlier betrayal of Him.

Last Sunday,Christian congregations throughout the world were told the amazing story of these rather hopeless,gormless chaps that Jesus had gathered around Himself and had loved. And how,on a certain day after the ascension of Jesus to Heaven, they had been transformed into powerful stars and celebrities and pillars of His church that will never die.

I offered a little prayer: ``Please God give me just a tiniest bit of this Holy Spirit elixir so that my faith too can be strengthened.''


Traditional pursuits for a traditional holiday - but all that changed when former Prime Minister Harold Wilson (left)decided to change the date of a centuries-old celebration steeped in religion
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 11, 2003
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