Last year when I put up a picture of the flowering bush growing outside the back door, I got so many responses about it. The Pinkster bush seemed to bring up memories, most often including grandmothers and their gardens.
That’s when I found out the bush was a type of azalea called a Pinkster. And when I googled the name, I found it was related not to the color pink but to the Christian Holiday of Pentecost which occurs when the bush blooms. The Dutch word for Pentecost is Pinxter.
The story is inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the country. It takes place in Brooklyn NY and Haiti in the years before and just after the civil war. It’s about Libertie, the doctor’s daughter, who is struggling to find her own place in the world as a young freeborn black woman.
In the book, Greenidge includes many historical references, and one of them is Pinkster Day.
“Pinkster was what the old ones celebrated, the ones who had been alive for slave days here in Kings County…They all spoke in the strange singsong accent of old New York. They had celebrated Pinkster when they were young…”
In the book Greenidge describes how Pinkster Day continued to be celebrated by the free Black people in New York on Pentecost. The children would make gingerbread and gather azaleas and make huts using dried grasses. There would be drumming, singing, and dancing. It was the one holiday where they would drink cider.
But when the Black people who lived in New York were still enslaved, Pinkster Day was the one day during the year when families who had been broken apart by slavery could reunite.
“The old ones spoke of it as a release, as if it existed outside of time, and none of them mentioned how it used to end – with the men and women returning to their masters, saying goodbye to their loved ones owned by other men, with sometimes nothing but a blade of grass tucked away to remember them by, until they met again, the following year, if they were lucky.”
Last year when I googled Pinkster no information came up regarding this holiday. Today, I found so much information about Pinkster Day I’m not sure how I missed it last year.
The holiday was outlawed in New York in 1811 but it was revived in 2011 and since then there have been celebrations in some of the state parks in Albany (only an hour from the farm) and other places around the country.
I think, next year, when my Pinkster Bush blooms, I’m going to make it to one of the Pinkster Day Celebrations nearby.
You can read more about Pinkster Day here.