Chag HaShavuot is the second of the three annual chagim (Pilgrimage Festivals) in the Hebrew Calendar. In English Shavuot is known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.
The chag is known by various names. It is known as Chag HaShavuot (Feast of Weeks) in Shemot 34:22:
And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks (וְחַג שָׁבֻעֹת), of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.1
This same term for the chag is also used in Devarim 16:10:
Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks (חַג שָׁבֻעוֹת) for יהוה your God, offering your freewill contribution according as יהוה your God has blessed you.1
Shavuot is also known as Chag HaKatsir (Feast of Harvest) as seen in Shemot 23:16:
…and the Feast of the Harvest (וְחַג הַקָּצִיר), of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field.1
Shavuot is also called Yom HaBikkurim (Day of the First Fruits) as we seen in Bamidbar 28:26:
On the Day of the first fruits (וּבְיוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים), your Feast of Weeks, when you bring an offering of new grain to יהוה, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.1
Unlike Rabbinical Judaism, Karaite Judaism does not follow the tradition that Shavuot is the anniversary of the Revelation at Har Sinai since there is no basis for this tradition in the Tanakh.2
Shavuot is the only one of the chagim in the Tanakh not given a fixed calendar date. Instead, we are commanded to celebrate this chag at the end of a 50-day period known as the Counting of the Omer. Shavuot falls on the 50th day of the Omer.
And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering – the day after the Shabbat – you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to יהוה. … On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at you occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages. (Vayikra 23:15-16, 21)1
In the late Second Beit HaMikdash times there arose a debate between the Boethusians and the Pharisees about whether the “morrow of the Sabbath” refers to the Sunday during Chag HaMatzot or the second day of Chag HaMatzot (16th of Nisan). Like the Boethusians and the ancient Yisraelites, Karaites count the 50 days of the Omer from the Sunday during Chag HaMatzot. This means that unlike the Rabbinates, Karaites always celebrate Shavuot on Sunday.2
Since we no longer have a Beit HaMikdash, we offer prayers in place of offerings and sacrifices as we see in Hoshea.
Take words with you and return to יהוה. Say to Him: “Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips.” (Hoshea 14:3)1
Shavuot commemorates two events: the conquest of Eretz Yisrael and the sowing of Eretz Yisrael with seeds. Eretz Yisrael must receive יהוה’s blessings which depends upon the Yisraelites keeping יהוה’s mitzvot.3
Some Karaites – like the Rabbinates – eat dairy products and honey on Shavuot as a symbol of our hopes for the New Year. Food from the new crops and dried fruits left over from Chag HaMatzot are also eaten.3 In addition, extra prayers are offered on this chag in place of the offerings brought to the Beit HaMikdash.
1David Stein (ed.). JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
2Nehemia Gordon. “Shavuot.” karaite-korner.org. Karaite Korner, 2008. [http://karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml]
3al-Qirqisani Center. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom. Troy, NY: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003.