A Primer on the Christian Calendar

Do you follow the Christian calendar?

I grew up attending churches that didn’t emphasize the Christian calendar, and thus remained largely unaware of it. But the church I currently attend does periodically focus on the Holy Days of the traditional church calendar—and it’s been a wonderful learning experience. After four years of attendance, I’ve begun to look forward to the spiritual practices that go along with each of the holidays. It provides a reflective, spiritual structure—a rhythm—for my life.

Not every church or denomination follows the Christian calendar; some emphasize certain holidays on the calendar but not others. Most Christian traditions recognize at least the most important of the holidays, Christmas and Easter. To me, the true value of such holidays is in the opportunity they provide for deep reflection. When we read the Bible today, it’s easy to read through it quickly, moving rapidly (and sometimes shallowly) through Biblical stories and events. Holidays that ask us to focus on or celebrate specific Bible events at a specific times during the year give us an opportunity to slowly and prayerfully reflect on the meaning and importance of each event.

You’re likely aware of at least two events on the Christian calendar, Christmas and Easter. But there are many more holidays of note on the calender, each related to a story in the Bible. Here are some of the major milestones that make up the Christian calendar, along with their dates in the next year:

Advent

The four-week-long season of reflection leading up to Christmas. This season acts as a daily reminder of Jesus’ birth, and a time to ponder its significance in your life. In 2012, it runs from December 2 – 24.

Christmas

The day Christians set aside each year to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Although we usually think of Christmas as a single-day holiday, traditionally this is a 12-day celebration that begins on Christmas and extends to Epiphany, the next major point on the calendar. Occurs on December 25.

Epiphany

A celebratory feast at the end of Christmas in memory of the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus, and more generally of Jesus’ appearance before a waiting world. Occurs on January 6, 2013.

The Lenten Season

The forty-day period before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday. The forty days of Lent are meant to mirror the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted. Some Christian traditions observe the Lenten season by fasting from certain foods or refraining from certain activities. Runs from February 13 – March 30 in 2013.

Ash Wednesday

Marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Some traditions hold a special worship service on this day during which congregants mark their foreheads with ash. Occurs on February 13, 2013.

Passion Week

The final week of Lent that leads up to Easter. Also referred to as Holy Week. Throughout Passion Week, Christians read and reflect on the events that Jesus went through during the final days before his arrest and crucifixion. Runs from March 24 – 30 in 2013.

Maundy Thursday

The day before Jesus’ arrest on Good Friday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Occurs on March 28, 2013.

Good Friday

The Friday of Passion Week; commemorates Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It’s a time for somber reflection and repentance; many churches hold solemn services on this day. Occurs on March 29, 2013.

Eastertide

The fifty-day period between Easter and Pentecost. Depending on your Christian tradition, there are various events and observances for each of the intervening weeks. Runs from March 31 – May 19 in 2013.

Easter

A joyous celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Occurs on March 31, 2013.

Ascension Day

Celebrates Jesus’s bodily ascent into heaven. Occurs forty days after Easter. Occurs on May 9, 2013.

Pentecost

Ten days after Ascension Day, fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit comes down on the apostles and imparts the “gift of tongues”. Occurs on May 19, 2013.

These are the most widely-recognized dates on the Christian calendar. Your own Christian tradition may recognize some or all of these, or it may celebrate additional observances throughout the year. Even if you don’t actively celebrate these holidays, they can serve as great reminders throughout the year of the key events in the Christian story, and a good excuse to grab your Bible and read (or re-read) those accounts. As we head into the holiday season and a new year, consider jotting a few of these holidays down on your calendar and taking time to reflect on the associated stories when they come around!

Related posts:

  1. Last Chance for Easter Newsletters!
  2. How is Your Church Celebrating the Christmas Season?
  3. Journey to Easter With Our Lent Reading Plans and Devotionals
  4. New Poll: How is Your Church Celebrating Holy Week?
  5. Christmas Joy Devotional Begins December 1

Posted by Chris

Filed under Church, Easter, Holiday, Lent