Christian Liturgical Calendar

See full article, “Introduction to the Christian Year,” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts here.

Advent

When: Begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. Includes all days until Christmas (or Christmas Eve). Length varies according to date of first Sunday. The beginning of the Christian year.

Themes: Waiting; Expectation; Hope; Yearning; Our need for a Savior. A minor theme of joy. Christians remember the Jewish yearning for the “advent” (from Latin for “coming” or “visit”) of the Messiah. We also get in touch with our hope for the Messiah’s second advent.

Christmas

When: December 25th through January 5, a twelve-day season. Many Christians begin celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. Of course most people think of Christmas as a day, not a season. But, as the song narrates, there are twelve days of Christmas.

Themes: Celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God; Salvation; Joy; Kingdom; Peace; Giving.

Epiphany

When: January 6, the day after the season of Christmas.

Themes: Some traditions emphasize the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) and the universal import of salvation in Christ. Other traditions focus on the baptism of Jesus.

Ordinary Time

When: Times during the year when there is not a special day or season. Ordinary time begins the day after Epiphany and extends until the day before Lent (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday). Ordinary time begins again after Pentecost, extending until the day before Advent.

Themes: Ordinary time is not “plain, boring time,” but rather “counted” time. Different traditions include many celebrations during ordinary time, such as Trinity Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, All Saints Day, and so forth. The themes of ordinary time include the basic elements of the Christian life.

Lent

When: Forty weekdays prior to Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. The precise dates vary according to the date of Easter, which can range from March 22 to April 25. The six Sundays during the season of Lent are not counted in the forty days.

Themes: Penitence; Morality; Human Limitations; Need for a Savior; Self-Denial; Preparation for Good Friday and Easter. Some Christian traditions emphasize Lenten fasting (from food and other delights). Other traditions focus on adding spiritual disciplines.

Holy Week

When: The last seven days of Lent, prior to Easter. Holy Week includes: Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Themes: The last week of Jesus’ life; The death of Jesus and its meaning; Love for one another (Maundy Thursday). Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus and king, but leads into a solemn preparation for remembrance of his death.

Easter

When: A fifty-day season of the year, beginning on the evening before Easter and continuing for seven Sundays until Pentecost. Includes Ascension Day. Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox (March 21). (The Eastern Orthodox Easter occurs a week later.)

Themes: Salvation; Victory; New life; Joy; Christ reigns.

Pentecost

When: The seventh Sunday after Easter.

Themes: The outpouring of the Holy Spirit; The birth of the church; Power for service in the church and the world; The inclusion of all of God’s people in ministry. “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for fifty, from the phrase “fiftieth day [after Easter].” In some traditions it is called Whitsunday (White Sunday), perhaps owing to the white garments of those baptized on this Sunday.

Ordinary Time (again)

When: From the day after Pentecost through the day before Advent, about five months.

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