Green Monday


Today is Whit Monday (a moveable festival replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday in the 1970’s, which this year happens to fall on Whit Monday). Whitsuntide was a holiday week in agricultural England, and this tradition was continued after the Industrial Revolution, when workers in cotton mills etc could take a Spring break while the factory machinery was serviced.

Whit Monday is the day after Whit Sunday, also known as Pentecost. Pentecost means 50th day in Greek. In the Jewish calendar it is the festival of Shavuot, 50 days after Passover, and celebrates the giving of the Torah. In the Christian calendar Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter, and celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit.

I celebrated Pentecost this year at Heath St Baptist Church in Hampstead, where I was invited to take part in a service of dedication for a new art work Grid Shimmer (pictured above), commissioned by the church from James Melloy, who I once taught at Goldsmiths. It was a very musical Pentecost service, with a nice gospel jazz band comprising piano, drums, double bass, and french horn. Being a Baptist church there were no vestments or altar cloths (no altar in fact) so no seasonal colours.

The old English name Whitsun is a contraction of White Sunday. So it is strange that, although white is the colour used in the Church of England from Easter Sunday on (having been purple through Lent), on Whit Sunday it changes to red, symbolising the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

However, the next day, Whit Monday, it changes to green, the colour of Ordinary Time, and pretty much stays that way until Advent, when it turns purple again.

So perhaps it was appropriate that I revisited a favourite film, Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray (1986)about a complicated young woman’s seemingly impossible quest for true connection in a holiday romance. Apparently the director spent a year trying to capture the rare phenomenon whereby the sun appears to turn green just before it sets. In the end he had to reproduce the effect in the lab for his closing shot, thereby creating what has been described as ‘the tiniest and most moving special effect in the history of cinema‘: