Not many people know about Pinkster, but the folks at Historic Hudson Valley have been working hard to make this holiday as well-known as Pinkalicious. First brought to the Valley in the 1700s by the Dutch, Pinkster (or Pinksteren in modern Dutch) was originally a Christian holiday occurring 50 days after Easter; it marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples. But early secular festivities combined May Day and celebrations of spring and upcoming harvests. It was a time for merry making, visiting friends and neighbors, having fun, and eating waffles and eggs “cooked in every way,” as Scottish physician Alexander Coventry wrote in his diary June 4, 1786 when he was traveling around the U.S. “The blacks as well as their masters were frolicking…” reported playwright and historian William Dunlap in 1797, as told in Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch.
After the Revolution and in the early 19th century, the holiday became more and more an African celebration. As A.J. Williams-Myers, professor of black studies at SUNY New Paltz, explained in his book, Long Hammering, an African holiday similarly celebrated the “rebirth of life in the spring” and African slaves brought their own rituals to the event, such as the installation of a King, accompanied by drumming, dancing, and numerous games. Both Albany and New York City were known for lavish Pinkster festivals. James Fenimore Cooper described a Pinkster festival in his book, Satanstoe, and remarked, “The traditions and usages of their original country were so far preserved as to produce a marked difference.” Williams-Myers asserted that because of the Pinkster Festival, for almost 200 years some forms of Africanisms were able to survive within the institution of slavery in New York.
On Sunday, May 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Historic Hudson Valley will hold its annual Pinkster Festival at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, with dancing, drumming, vignettes, period food demos, and storytelling. African-American food will be prepared by Nikki Toi’s Soul Food Cafe of Tarrytown. There will be demonstrations of heirloom varieties of beans dried from last year’s harvest and green leafy vegetable, akara (black-eyed pea fritters), which will also be for sale, and Dutch puffed pancakes (Poffertjes). In addition, there will be a Pinkster Through History exhibit on view. Visit www.hudsonvalley.org for more information.
If you go…
When: Sunday, May 17, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Philipsburg Manor. 381 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow
Cost: $16, $14 seniors, $10 children 3-17, members and children under 3 free