Everyone has heard of Easter and Christmas. Most people think they know what they are about, but there is more to them than most people imagine. Then there are the less well known festivals. Take a look at the list below to find out more. For Saints Days, see our Directory of Saints.
The four preceeding sundays before Christmas.
Precise date determined by the fourth sunday before Christmas. Advent
is the festival that reminds us of Christs coming. Christmas of course
is the festival of Christs's coming as a child. Which is why the dates
of Advent are determined by the day of the week Christmas falls upon.
1 (the first sunday in Advent) remembers the Advent Hope, the desire of
God's faithful for the coming. Advent 2 remembers the word of God in
the Old Testament, where throughout history God promises that one day
the Christ will come.
Advent 3 remembers the forerunner, John the
Baptist, who prepared 'the way' for the Christ to come.
celebrates the Annunciation, where an angel (God's messenger Gabriel)
told Mary about the soon to happen events.
Day Date: 1st November. The
festival where we remember the saints in general and the contribution
they have made altogether to the cause of Christianity. Also to
remember the Communion of Saints, and the collective continual prayers
they offer (remember there is life after death!) in heaven.
Souls Day Date: 2nd November. The
festival where we remember those of our friends and family who have
departed this life and the contribution they have made to the Christian
faith, very often by their influence on our beliefs.
Date: Variable, but the
Thursday 40 days after Easter. The festival that remembers that the
Risen Christ, who had been with the disciples since rising from the
dead, Ascended into heaven to be at the right hand of God. Heaven is
not 'above' as the word might imply. Jesus did not have rocket powered
sandals. Heaven is a higher state, but we are not talking about
altitude. Jesus went to be with God and hence ascended into a higher
state. 'Higher' in a similar sense as the Managing Director of a
business is 'higher' than the receptionist - nothing to do with height
above sea level!
Date: Variable, but always 40 days prior to Holy
Saturday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The faithful are
marked in the sign of a cross by the priest who uses ash to mark a
cross on their foreheads. The priest uses the words: "Man, from ash you
came and to ash you will return" to remind us of the state of mankind
and to start off our remembering of Lent.
December. (7th January in Eastern Churches). Christmas is NOT Christs
birthday. The best scientific reckoning (based on historic study of the
orbit of the planet and planetary system) estimates it is sometime in
the month we now call April. In early Christian times the Church in
Rome decided on a date to hold a Mass (hence Christ-Mass or Christmas)
to celebrate the coming of Jesus,
the Christ as a child. The date was chosen to coincide with the Roman
winter festival of Saturnalia, and to smother it out. Christmas has of
course grown in popularity and done just that. Chosen on the 25th of
the tenth month (our calendars have changed since then, with two extra
months having been added). Dec means ten, hence december was the tenth
month in the old calendar. The other main church headquarters of the
time, Constantinople, chose a different date to hold their Christ-Mass
hence the Eastern churches use of 7th January. Although the date is
arbitary, the events
celebrated are not and are a part of the most profound series of events
Corpus Christi Date: Variable, but always the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
Corpus Christi is a festival to celebrate the fact the Christ left us
the chance to re-live the Last Supper, the Eucharist. Corpus Christi
means 'the body of Christ'. This is a festival to give thanks for the
sacrament we can now hold to get close to Jesus, and remain close to
Him. Without this sacrament, perhaps the most important of all
sacraments, our faith would be much, much weaker.
Date: Variable. Determined by Lunar calendar. The
festival celebrating Christs resurrection. The term Easter also refers
to the 'season' in which this occurs, (because Good Friday is 'part'or
Easter, as is Holy Saturday). When we say Easter we usually mean Easter
Day: always a Sunday, the day we choose to celebrate the Resurrection
of Christ and His triumphant victory over death and sin, not only for
himself, but also for us and everybody who ever has lived or who has
yet to be born. Many countries today give and receive Easter Eggs, the
egg being a symbol of 'new life', referring to the New Life we all now
can have because of Jesus' resurrection.
Ember Days Any
of the days traditionally reserved for fasting and prayer. Now often
used in religious communities and seminaries in preparation for
Epiphany Date: 6th January. The
festival when we remember that the wise men, the Magi, visited Jesus
when he was a baby, having seen his coming astrologically (saw him in
the stars). Biblical accounts tell of a bright star which lead them to
where Jesus was. Interestingly, modern astronomers have found that a
very bright comet would have been visible to the naked eye in that part
of the sky at that time. The Magi saw this and took it as a message
from God that the expected Messiah would make His appearance.
Traditionally we think of three wise men, but there is no biblical
evidence of the number of wise men so possibly this is an assumption
because each brought gifts, and three gifts (Gold, Frankincense, and
Myrrh) are mentioned. We also remember that Herod's plan to kill Jesus
was frustrated when the Magi returned to their land without having told
Herod of the baby's whereabouts.
Good Friday Date: Variable, always the Friday prior to Easter Sunday.
I often wonder why this is called 'Good' Friday when it is the festival
when we remember Jesus being put to death in excruciation on a cross.
However, without this ultimate of ultimate sacrifices, good would not
have overcome evil; so I assume that this is why it is so named. Friday
is chosen because when the execution of Jesus took place it was the day before the Jewish Sabbath (being saturday).
Dates: Variable, but Lent is the
forty days beginning
with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday.
Lent is a memorial of the days Jesus spent in the desert preparing
himself for the coming events. Jesus spent 40 days alone 'in the
wilderness', going without, and away from the temptations of everyday
life. Scripture tells us that the devil turned up to try and spoil this
time of preparation. Early Christians and some pious ones today include
limited or not so limited fasting in this period. Lent for most
Christians today is a period of reflection and to help with that vow
some go without something to help in their contemplations.
Thursday Date: Variable, but
always the day before Good Friday This festival reminds us that Jesus
turned and served his disciples by washing their feet. He was showing
them that no matter how great you are, you are to serve, as opposed to
be served upon. In England, the monarch washes the feet of several
ordinary people in a re-inactment of this on this day. Catholic bishops hold Chrism Mass on this day.
29th September. A feast celebrating the contribution of St Michael.
This is more than a saints day though. This was the date of a Mass the
church regularly held to remember the angels, all of God's messengers.
Michael is regarded as an archangel, as well as the saint who prays
for and holds in memorial all the angels. This is why many churches
named after him are called things like: "St Michael and All Angels".
Sunday Date: The
Sunday before Easter. Celebrating Christs entry into Jerusalem when the
people waved palm leaves and sang, chanted and welcomed Jesus as he
entererd the holy city on a donkey as the Old Testament scripture
predicted the messiah would. The people had an anticipation and
excitement that we try to re-capture in our Palm Sunday service, and
palm leaves or branches are waved by the congegation.
also called Whitsun. This is the festival that remembers and praises
God for, the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the agent
of God that lifts and enables, giving Christians the power to do God's
work, and the means to be able to worship Him at all times, in all
circumstances, just by thinking about it. Jesus said that He would send
the Holy Spirit as He was ascended. Many churches place very great
store on the spirit and the gifts of the spirit. These churches often
refer to themsleves as Pentecostal. All churches of course, hold
the Spirit very highly. The old name for the Holy Spirit was Holy Ghost.
Remembrance Sunday Date: the Sunday nearest 11th November.
Not exclusively a Christian festival, but a day to remember those who
have died in protecting us and our freedoms in wars and armed conflicts
etc. I include it in this list because it is so widely recognised by
Christian churches and congregations. It is without doubt universally
Shrove Tuesday Date: Variable, but the day before Ash Wednesday.
As this is the last 'ordinary' day before the time of Lent which is
associated with soem level of fasting or going without, early
Christians would clear their food cupboards, cooking everything up and
eating it. Today we eat pancakes to remember this. This day is also
called 'Pancake Day'.
Trinity Sunday Date: Variable, but the next Sunday after Whit Sunday. The
festival of celebrating the concept of Trinity, the way God is manifest
in the Father (God creator of all), the Son (Jesus, the Son of God or
the Son of Man), and the Spirit (the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised
would be sent on the disciples and whose coming is celebrated at
Date: Variable, also called Pentecost. The name
comes from 'White Sunday' the implication being pure and Holy. See