Feasts and Seasons
The church calendar: You can certainly have Christianity without it. Many do, in fact. I am familiar with churches that observe only the days of Christmas and Easter (and maybe also the 4th of July). The Calendar with its colors and feasts and seasons is distinctly not in the Bible. The earliest Christians also didn't have it (and we might remember furthermore that they were actually Jews who would have observed the feasts and fasts of the Jewish calendar). Many Protestants--particularly of the separatist and strict Puritan variety--would shun the Calendar as being "popish". These are the very same sturdy folks we revere as the founders of our oldest North American English Colonies (besides Virginia). Today some might rightly decry the Calendar as an echo of a medieval ethos, and suggest that it go the way of relics and indulgences. Some might worry that it is confusing or archaic to seekers, and should therefore go the way of pipe organs, "thou", and Elizabethan music.
While you can do without it, the church Calendar is like a spice in the Christian stew. We like it partly for its medieval ethos--like the Christian faith itself, it connects us with a long tradition that reaches deep into our past. The church Calendar adds pageantry and color to the year and creates rhythms and cycles that magnify (not diminish) our understanding of the Christian life. While it won't redeem you or alter your eternal destiny, it can draw you more deeply into the drama of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It reminds us also of the gift and activity of the Holy Spirit who first manifested within the church on the day of Pentecost. It honors the lives of Jesus' parents and disciples, and recalls to our memory many other exemplars and martyrs on whose faith the church has grown and prospered.
If you want to incorporate the calendar into your spiritual life, a worthy next step is to decide "which one?" The Roman Catholics have one, as do Anglicans, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthodox. All of them differ at various points, some more dramatically than others. Here we will take an approach of following a spare version of the "western" calendar, which would be roughly the same among most of the major bodies listed above. The biggest differences would be with the "eastern" branch of Christianity. Our "resources" page can point you to Eastern Orthodox websites that you may explore further as you desire.
The church year begins with the season of Advent, which derives from Latin words meaning "arrival". In Advent we place ourselves in the shoes of those who awaited the coming of the Messiah. Penitential purple is used during this season of preparation.
Christmas begins on Dec 25, and lasts for 12 days (just like in the song). Christmas is about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. A celebratory time, this is color coded as a gold occasion.
Next, beginning on Jan 6, we have the season of Epiphany, one of the "green" seasons of "ordinary time". Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus' glory in several events, including the adoration by the Magi ("wise men"), Jesus' baptism, and his first recorded miracle.
Purple returns for the 40 days of Lent, which I can't describe any better than this: "The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial" (Wikipedia). The season of Lent is kicked off by Ash Wednesday, and culminates in "Holy Week", with its observances of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.
Easter is the most festive time on the calendar, and gold-colored vestments are typically used. Easter celebrates the triumph of Jesus over death. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to many people. He commissioned his disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, Holy Bible, English Standard Version). The Feast of Ascension celebrates Jesus' return to the heavenly realms, where he "sits at the right hand of the Father" (Nicene Creed). Easter season lasts until the Day of Pentecost.
The feast of Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit upon the early church. This feast day kicks off the following season of Pentecost, another period of "ordinary time", marked by the liturgical color of green.
All throughout the year, celebrations and remembrances are peppered in, recalling to our minds the such things as the lives of important early believers (such as John the apostle), as well as doctrines (Trinity Sunday, for example).
We commend the Calendar to you (whichever one you choose). Relive the life of Christ. Let the rhythms and cycles sink in to your bones. Remember the saints. Embrace all the pageantry of this colorful and lively faith story.