The festivals of Judaism are closely connected with the events of the agricultural year, and Shavuot is no exception. The festival’s Biblical basis is found in Leviticus 23:15-22, which instructs the Israelites to “count down” fifty days “from the day you brought the sheaf” (bundle of wheat). So, the period between Passover and Pentecost became known as the “omer” (Hebrew word meaning “sheaf”) and the countdown as “counting the omer”. This countdown was a reminder to the Israelites to count on God for a fruitful crop. Because Israel was an agrarian society, they were entirely dependent upon God’s favor for their livelihood, since the right land and weather conditions were critical for a bountiful harvest. Likewise, Christians must count on God for fruitfulness in our own lives.
Today, there are many other traditions associated with Shavuot. Observing Jews often read the book of Ruth (harvest theme), the Ten Commandments, or even study the Torah (“Law” - first five books of the Bible) to recall the revelation at Sinai. Homes and synagogues are often decorated with flowers and greens, and festive meals, usually involving dairy foods are eaten.
Christians know this holiday as Pentecost (from the Greek word meaning “fifty”), commemorating the birth of the Church at the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) in fulfillment of Joel 2:28. In addition, the prophet Zechariah predicted a future great harvest that would involve another pouring out of the Spirit onto the Jewish people in the end times, ”And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech 12:10).
After the giving of the law on Shavuot, the Jewish people looked forward to their entry into the Promised Land of Canaan. Likewise, after the receiving of the Holy Spirit, Christians look forward in anticipation of our heavenly Promised Land.
See our article Hebrew Feasts and Festivals for an introduction to additional Jewish Holy Days.