CHURCH SEASONS & FESTIVALS
The season of Advent marks the beginning of the church year and comprises the four weeks before Christmas. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning "coming". Principal themes include: hope, darkness/light, repentance, watchfulness, preparation, expectation of the incarnation of Christ on Christmas, and anticipation of the fullness of time at Christ's second coming.
The Christmas season celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. It lasts for 12 days, December 24 through January 5, the eve of the Epiphany of our Lord. The term is Old English meaning "Christ's Mass". Principal themes include: God's presence in human life, God's love for all of creation, Paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection.
The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the oldest Christian feasts, though, throughout the centuries, it has celebrated a variety of things. Epiphany comes from a Greek verb meaning "to reveal," and all of the various events celebrated by the Feast of the Epiphany are revelations of Christ to man. Twelve days after Christmas it celebrates the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus.
The Baptism of Our Lord is the feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally marked as the Baptism of Our Lord. It is a day in which the church can reflect on on the sacred gifts and benefits offered at baptism.
The Transfiguration of our Lord celebrates the glorious revelation of God in Jesus Christ and Christ’s manifestation as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Jesus becomes radiant in glory upon a mountaintop, shining with bright rays of light. It is here, as at Jesus’ baptism, God claims him as a beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.
Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter and the first day of Lent. The day is named for the practice of imposing ashes, a practice which many Lutheran congregations have found to be a very meaningful part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. They are a penitential substitute for water as a reminder of our baptism. Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, often mentioned in the Bible. They symbolize our need to confess our sins and return to God.
As early as the mid-fourth century, Christians have observed a time of preparation before the Easter celebration. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. The forty days of Lent recall the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism and Moses' 40 day fast on Mount Sinai. It is a time of simplicity and preparation. Principal themes include: penitence, baptismal renewal, prayer, fasting, service, and the confession of sin.
Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before Easter, when the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is celebrated by processions in which palm fronds are carried.
Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday) is the Christian feast or holy day, falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.
Good Friday commemorates the Passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ at Calvary. It is observed on the Friday that precedes Easter Sunday, the sixth day of Holy Week.
Easter is a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
Pentecost is the great festival that marks the birth of the Christian church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means "fiftieth day" and is celebrated fifty days after Easter.
Holy Trinity Sunday, also known as “The Feast of the Holy Trinity,” is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and focuses on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Saints' Day began as a commemoration of the martyrs who had died for the faith, and it has since become a day when we honor and remember those who, in death, have joined the Church Triumphant, as well as the faithful saints of the present who serve Jesus Christ. Martin Luther held that all Christians are simultaneously sinner and saint—a sinner because of our rebellious nature, but a saint because of salvation in Jesus.
Christ the King Sunday celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of all things. Officially called "The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King," the day centers on the crucified and risen Christ, whom God exalted to rule over the whole universe. It is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, thus marking the end of the church year and moving us to the threshold of Advent, the season of hope for Christ’s coming again at the end of time.
The colors serve to adorn the worship space and to call attention to the nature of the season or festival being celebrated.
Blue is the color associated with the season of Advent because of its hopeful connotations. This association originated in Scandinavia, probably because purple dye was too expensive for churches to use. Some assemblies use purple in Advent, a color associated with royalty as the church awaits the newborn king.
White is the color designated for Festivals of Christ. It is used as a reference to the purity of the newborn Christ as well as our light and joy in him and his resurrection. Festivals for which white is the color of the day include: Christmas, Epiphany of Our Lord, Baptism of our Lord, Transfiguration of Our Lord, Maundy Thursday, Vigil of Easter, Easter, the Holy Trinity, and Christ the King. White is also the color used for anyone commemorated on the calendar who was not martyred.
Green is the color used for Sundays after the Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost. Green, in a sense, is a "neutral color," used when a more festive or more somber color is not appointed. It symbolizes our growth in Christ and in faith, as we follow the teachings and ministry of Christ. Some assemblies use differing shades of green throughout the Sundays after Pentecost, a lighter green in summer and a darker green in fall.
Black is the preferred color for Ash Wednesday, since it is the color of the ashes to which we will all return.
Purple is the color commonly used for the season of Lent, suggesting repentance and solemnity.
Red is used for the commemorations of martyrs and is used on the Day of Pentecost. Red as the color of fire is used on this day when we remember the tongues of fire descended on the crowd in Jerusalem. In contrast to the color of scarlet, Pentecost’s red is a bright color. Scarlet or purple may be used for Palm Sunday, as well as the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, as it suggests the deep color of blood.
The only day which does not have a color is Good Friday, when all the paraments are traditionally removed from the church after the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday night.