The Church Year
Advent, from the Latin word adventus, which means 'arrival' or 'coming', is the first season of the liturgical year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, the Sunday falling on or nearest to 30 November, and ends on Christmas Eve. Traditionally observed as a 'fast', it focuses on preparation for the coming of Christ, not only the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas but also, in the first weeks, on the eschatological final coming of Christ, making Advent 'a period for devout and joyful expectation'.
This season is often marked by the Advent Wreath, a garland of evergreens with four candles. Although the main symbolism of the advent wreath is simply marking the progression of time, many churches attach themes to each candle, most often hope, faith, joy, and love.
The Christmas season immediately follows Advent. The traditional Twelve Days of Christmas begin with Christmas Eve on the evening of 24 December and continue until the feast of Epiphany. The actual Christmas season continues until the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, which in the present form of the Roman Rite is celebrated on the Sunday after 6 January.
Epiphany, which traditionally falls on 6 January, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally, but not solely, the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
Lent is a solemn observance in the liturgical year of many Christian denominations, lasting for a period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. In the general Latin-rite and most Western denominations Lent is taken to run from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) morning or to Easter Eve.
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Bible when Jesus is crucified on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed.
Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry where he endured temptation by the Devil. However, different Christian denominations calculate the forty days of Lent differently. In most Western traditions the Sundays are not counted as part of Lent; thus the period from Ash Wednesday until Easter consists of 40 days when the Sundays are excluded.
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.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper and its preceding foot washing, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide, or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (although the astronomical equinox occurs on 20 March in most years) and the Full Moon is not necessarily on the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for Easter and Passover are identical or very similar. Easter customs vary across the Christian world and include sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb. Additional customs that have become associated with Easter and are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades.
The Feast of the Ascension, also known as Ascension Thursday, Holy Thursday (only by some denominations; not to be confused with Thursday of Holy Week) or Ascension Day, commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It is one of the ecumenical feasts (ie. universally celebrated) of Christian churches, ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and Pentecost. Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter (following the count given in Acts 1:3).
In Britain thanks have been given for successful harvests since pagan times. Harvest festival is traditionally held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about 23 September). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. The celebrations on this day usually include singing hymns, praying and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food in the festival known as Harvest Festival, Harvest Home or Harvest Thanksgiving.