Many see religion as a pattern of observances, and indeed there are those sorts of things prevalent in liturgical Christian traditions. Not being raised in a liturgical tradition, I had problems when confronted with liturgical things until I learned to think them as teachig tools. At one point in my life I spent the better part of 2 years in an Anglican Cathedral Choir. I now find myself more liturgical than most especially in my current role in an Evangelical Church. In a non-liturgical church things liturgical actually make rather bad teaching tools as I discovered with these series. In fairness, our church was becoming more liturgical but the notions of seasons and feast days were new to most.

The unfortunate thing is I am not sure that these would have played much better in the context of a more liturgical church. From my time in those congregations I learned that few have any real consciousness of the Christian liturgical year apart from Christmas and Easter. For example, many confuse Lent with Advent. There are those with a deeper understanding but they are generally the clergy and the folks who charge the paraments.

As with many religious things there are differences in the liturgical calendar among Christian groups. If Christianity was really to do with observance of seasons these differences in practice would be a big deal. As it is, they amount to customs that can either add or detract from the Christian message.

As a teaching tool, the liturgical calendar serves to shift our focus to different aspects of the life and ministry of Christ as the year goes through its cycle; they provide a lesson plan. Along with the yearly cycle of feasts, fasts and seasons, most liturgical churches follow a lectionary goes through the Bible on a three-year cycle.

Most liturgical calendars in the west are descended from an older more extensive calendar that the Roman Church used at the time of the reformation. Many protestant churches retain little of the liturgical calendar apart from Easter, Pentecost and Christmas and then these are days rather than seasons. The opposition to the Church calendar is old. The Puritans in fact outlawed the celebration of Christmas in the early days of the Plymouth colony thinking it of pagan origin.

The Roman Church simplified its liturgical calendar at Vatican II and there is now a common liturgical calendar that is used by Rome and many protestant denominations. The Calendar that is presented below is my own and is the result of me trying to come to grips with this tradition.

Western Christianity

Season

Character

Color

Advent

First season of the liturgical year. It is traditionally a fast, and begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Its purpose is the preparation for Christmas, with the focus on expectation.

Purple or Blue

Christmas

Typically begins with a worship service on Christmas Eve (December 24) and ends on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6.

Christmas Day itself is December 25 when Jesus’ birth is celebrated.

White or Gold

Epiphany

January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. It is also known as Three Kings’ Day.

Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are counted from December 25th until January 5th. The day before Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is sometimes called Twelfth Night, an occasion for celebration in some cultures.

For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent.

White or Gold

Ordinary Time

The word ordinary in the name Ordinary Time comes from the same root as our word ordinal, and in this sense means "the counted weeks."

These are the weeks which do not belong to a proper season have numbers in manay traditions.

Green

Lent

Lent is a fast in preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, in Holy Week. There are forty days of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday until Easter, but not including Sundays. The last two weeks of Lent are known as "Passiontide," which begins on Passion Sunday; the final week of Lent is known as "Holy Week," which begins on Palm Sunday.

Purple

Holy Week

Holy Week commemorates the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday which celebrates Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday recalls the last super and Good Friday His crucifixion.

 

Easter

The date of Easter varies from year to year.

For the first few centuries of Christianity Easter was celebrated on Passover and in the West it often coincides today. There is a whole calendar discussion here and I will leave that to those better qualified.

The Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday.

White or Gold,

Pentecost

Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the Church with the gift of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2. It is also the Jewish feast of Shavuot, the feast of weeks. Shavuot is the time when the first fruits of that harvest are brought to the Temple. The imagery is applied to Jesus as the firstfruits from the dead in I Corinthians 15.20.

The Jews today celebrate the giving of Torah on Shavuot.

Red

Ordinary Time ("Time After Pentecost")

The second part of Ordinary Time begins after the Easter Season, on the Monday after Pentecost, and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. Before the Roman liturgical calendar was reformed at the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays in this part of the year were listed as "Sundays after Pentecost" by Roman Church. Many protestants maintain this tradition and call this season Kingdomtide.

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Pentecost.

Green