The church year is called the liturgical year, which begins with Advent, and it has many liturgical seasons. Each season has one or more religious festivals. Festivals are celebrations to remember the critical events in Jesus’ life. There are three cycles in the Christian year, these are;
- The Christmas cycle begins with Advent, preparation before Christmas Day, December 25th, when Jesus was born. Then, on January 6th is the Epiphany.
- The Easter Cycle – This is the most important cycle. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, people receive ashes on their forehead in mass. Lent is a 40 day period before Easter, commemorative of the 40 days Jesus went into the desert. This reflective preparation ends with Holy week, containing important contrasting days, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
- Whitsun Cycle, the least important of the three cycles, begins with Ascension day, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. Whitsun/Pentecost occurs ten days later to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles.
Most festivals’ dates are static, for example, Christmas (December 25th) and Epiphany (January 6th). Saints days always remain on the same day, e.g. Saint Patrick’s (March 17th). The Easter Cycle moves according to the moon, with Easter Day falling on the first full moon after March 21st. This movement directly effects the Whitsun Cycle because Ascension and Pentecost have to be 40 and 50 days after Easter Day, respectively.
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Advent is a time-spanning four weeks directly before Christmas. People set time aside to prepare by repenting their sins or doing something cheerful, like opening one window of an Advent Calendar every morning and reading the spiritual message inside to guide them throughout the day. Christmas cards, a reasonably recent custom, are sent to others wishing a happy Christmas.
Christmas Day, December 25th, is the second most important festival of the liturgical year. People can do many things to commemorate Jesus’ birth, like Carol singing or the cultural tradition of decorating a Christmas tree. People attend Midnight mass (Vigil) on Christmas Eve, preparing for the coming of Jesus. The service may be held earlier due to inconveniences. On Christmas morning, it is traditional to open presents, a sign of ‘love thy neighbour’ or Jesus being put on Earth as a gift from God.
Schools perform the nativity play, telling the story of Jesus’ birth. It is a dramatization of the Christmas Crib, modelling Jesus in the stable surrounded by animals, angels, Mary and Joseph etc. Pantomimes hold the theme of good conquering evil. A saviour will always come, which represents Jesus. The Epiphany occurs on January 6th, when the wise men (Magi) gave Jesus the gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Easter Cycle begins with Ash Wednesday (Lent).
The day before, people would eat luxurious food to prepare for fasting. Ash Wednesday marks the dawn of repenting and reflection, thinking of Jesus and the crucifixion. Preparations are made by reading the Bible, fasting or doing good works for such things as charities. The final week of Lent is Holy Week. Essential days are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. We go to church welcome the joyous coming of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey. Maundy Thursday re-enacts the last supper, where people will wash others’ feet like Jesus did, a sign of equality and humanity.
People receive Communion as this is when the first one took place. Near the end of the night, people attend a vigil, like Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane. The most solemn day of the year is Good Friday when Jesus was crucified. Christians may visit the 14 stations of the cross which show Jesus’ toiling journey to Calvary, to empathize. The sufferings and passion of Jesus will be read out between 12 and 3 o’clock, people will kiss Jesus’ feet on the cross as a sign of respect. It is a time of repentance, grief and contemplation for Christians.
Holy Saturday anticipates Jesus’ resurrection, gold and white decorations are positioned in church, as they’re colours of celebration. Easter Sunday is the most joyous day of the liturgical year. In mass, the passing of the paschal candle represents Jesus as the light of the world. An international tradition is receiving eggs, that are sent to people as a symbol of new life in Spring and Jesus. To rejoice, people meet family members, possibly for a pub lunch.
The Holy Spirit came onto the apostles and gave them 7 gifts on Whitsun. We traditionally receive confirmation, the coming of the Spirit, to commemorate this incredulous promise from Jesus. Whit Walks are also held when people march around the streets to sing the praises of the Spirit. Christians should pray for courage for life. People celebrate festivals to remember Jesus’ life. Special things are done in accordance with the different celebrations.
It is important to carry on these traditions to remember the fundamental meaning of our faith, Jesus. Other people celebrate festivals to have a good time, which is almost as important as the religious aspect. In conclusion, festivals can be celebrated in many different ways, publicly or privately. No specific rule tells you how to celebrate these reminiscent occasions of Jesus’ life, so thousands of celebrations take place in several denominations.