The Christian church, following earlier Jewish tradition, has long used the seasons of the year as an opportunity for festivals and holidays, sacred time set aside to worship God as the Lord of life. While Jewish celebration revolves around the Exodus from Egypt, the Christian calendar is organized around two major centers of sacred time: Advent through Easter and the season following Pentecost.
The first half of the church year follows the life and ministry of Jesus, beginning with our preparation during the 4 Sundays of Advent for his birth, and culminating with his resurrection at Easter, and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
The other half of the liturgical year includes the "ordinary time" following Pentecost. The focus is upon the life and mission of the Church, that is, the people of God who are gathered, empowered, and sent by the Spirit to continue to be the Body of Christ for the sake of the world.
A brief description of each liturgical season and festival can be found below this calendar:
The season of Advent lasts 4 Sundays. "Advent" means "coming/arrival". During Advent, we prepare ourselves for Christ's coming. We celebrate his coming to us in the past (at his earthly birth), in the present (in our daily living), and in the future (at the end of the world). Scripture readings during this season often include the stories of Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptizer. The liturgical color used during Advent originally was purple, but many churches these days are now using blue.
The season of Christmas lasts 12 days. Its color is white.
"Epiphany" means "revealing/making known". During this season, we celebrate God making known the offer of salvation for all people through Jesus Christ. The season always begins on January 6th (the Day of Epiphany... when the Magi (Wise Men) were said to have visited the infant Jesus), and lasts 4-8 weeks, ending on Transfiguration Sunday. The first Sunday of this season always commemorates the Baptism of our Lord. Scripture readings often include stories of Jesus gathering his first disciples, as well as some teachings and activities from the early part of Jesus' ministry. The seasonal color is green.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days (not counting Sundays), in remembrance of Jesus time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness. It is a somber season, as we journey with Jesus through the events leading to his crucifixion. Scripture readings include some of the more serious tones of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Purple is displayed during this Lenten time.
Holy Week, the last week of Lent, begins with Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday), which celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Scripture readings include the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus' own life.
Maundy Thursday remembers the institution of Holy Communion as Jesus shared his Last Supper (the Passover supper) with his disciples on the same night he was betrayed and arrested. "Maundy" means "command", for on that night, Jesus commanded his followers to love one another, and to share the Bread and Wine in remembrance of him.
Good Friday ("Holy Friday") marks the day of our Lord's death on the Cross. The color black is often used on this one day.
The season of Easter celebrates our Lord's rising from the dead, and appearing to his disciples and many other people for 40 days. Its color is white. The scripture readings share these stories.
40 days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended back into heaven.
10 days after the Ascension (50 days after Easter), Jesus sent his Holy Spirit upon his followers on the day of Pentecost (which is red). The season following Pentecost lasts 24-28 weeks, and its color is green. Scripture readings include a whole variety of Gospel stories and teachings that help guide our continued growth together as the people of God.
On All Hallow's Eve ("Halloween"... the day before All Saints Day), Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany... thus starting the Reformation of the Church... October 31, 1517.
Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year.