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THE CHRISTIAN CALENDAR
Seasons and Festival Days
 

The Christian church year is made up of six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost; and twelve Festival Days: Christmas, the Name of Jesus, Epiphany, Jesus' baptism, Jesus' transfiguration, Easter, Jesus' ascension, the Feast of Pentecost, The Holy Trinity, Reformation Day, All Saints' Day and Christ, the King.

The Six Seasons of the Church Year

The seasons follow the life of Jesus beginning with Advent, a four-week time of preparation for Jesus' birth on December 25th.

The date of December 25th as the birthday of Jesus was set in the year 274 A. D. by the Christians in Rome in response to a decree by Roman Emperor Aurelius that the citizens of the Roman Empire should celebrate what he called "the Feast of the Invincible Sun" on December 25th, which was the winter solstice at that time. Thus, the Christians in Rome - either to combat this practice or to give Christians an alternative festival - adopted December 25th as the birthday of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.

 

Since December 25th comes on different days of the week, the four Sundays of Advent vary from year to year starting as early as November 27th or as late as December 3rd. Advent is a time of joyful preparation for the wonderful time when the Son of God came to Earth to live as a person among regular people.

The next season is Christmas, a short season beginning with Christmas Day and continuing through the Name of Jesus until Epiphany. Christmas is a season of thankfulness for the goodness of God.

Epiphany begins on January 6th, the day the Wise Men came to Bethlehem to worship the Baby Jesus. Epiphany is a season of worship, as the whole world follows the Wise Men to find and honor Jesus.

 

Easter is a movable feast, and dates of most other movable feasts are determined with respect to Easter with the exceptions of Advent and Epiphany which are set by Christmas Day. In the Gregorian calendar, the date of Easter is defined to occur on the Sunday following the ecclesiastical Full Moon that falls on or next after March 21. This should not be confused with the popular notion that Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon following the vernal equinox.

 

In the first place, the vernal equinox does not necessarily occur on March 21. In addition, the ecclesiastical Full Moon is not the astronomical Full Moon -- it is based on tables that do not take into account the full complexity of lunar motion. As a result, the date of an ecclesiastical Full Moon may differ from that of the true Full Moon. However, the Gregorian system of leap years and lunar tables does prevent progressive departure of the tabulated data from the astronomical phenomena.

 

The ecclesiastical Full Moon is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon. The tables are based on the Metonic cycle, in which 235 mean synodic months occur in 6939.688 days. Since nineteen Gregorian years is 6939.6075 days, the dates of Moon phases in a given year will recur on nearly the same dates nineteen years later. To prevent the 0.08 day difference between the cycles from accumulating, the tables incorporate adjustments to synchronize the system over longer periods of time. Additional complications arise because the tabular lunations are of 29 or 30 integral days. The entire system comprises a period of 5,700,000 years of 2,081,882,250 days, which is equated to 70,499,183 lunations. After this period, the dates of Easter repeat themselves.

 

The following algorithm for computing the date of Easter is based on the algorithm of J. M. Oudin (1940). It is valid for any Gregorian year, Y. All variables are integers and the remainders of all divisions are dropped. The final date is given by M, the month, and D, the day of the month.

C = Y/100,
N = Y - 19*(Y/19),
K = (C - 17)/25,
I = C - C/4 - (C - K)/3 + 19*N + 15,
I = I - 30*(I/30),
I = I - (I/28)*(1 - (I/28)*(29/(I + 1))*((21 - N)/11)),
J = Y + Y/4 + I + 2 - C + C/4,
J = J - 7*(J/7),
L = I - J,
M = 3 + (L + 40)/44,
D = L + 28 - 31*(M/4).

 

Once the date for Easter Sunday is established, the date for Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season, can be determined. The title derives from the discipline in the ancient Roman Church of sprinkling ashes on the heads of penitents with a view to their being restored to Communion at Easter. The Sarum Missal contained a service for the blessing of the ashes, which were intended to be a mark of humiliation, contrition and mourning.

 

Lent is a season of self-examination and quiet contemplation of the mysteries of God. Christians prepare for the death of their sins and worldly selves with the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday as they follow his footsteps through Holy Week.

The Season of Easter begins with Easter Sunday. It is a glorious celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. It is a season of praise, as Christians glorify the risen Christ.

The Season of Pentecost begins with the Feast of the Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. Because Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven to all Christians, Pentecost is a season of Evangelism and outreach, as Christians look for the presence of the Holy Spirit in everyone on Earth.

   

The Twelve Festival Days of the Church Year

 

The first festival day of the church year is Christmas, which falls on December 25. Christians celebrate the day Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. On January 1, Christians celebrate the Name of Jesus. On this day the Baby Jesus was circumcised, given his name, and was accepted as a member of the Jewish community, who were the only people in the world at that time who worshiped the One God. The Name of Jesus falls in the season of Christmas.

Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 and is the day the Three Wise Men came from the east to worship the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and to give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Oils of frankincense and myrrh, which were very expensive incenses and balms, can now be found inexpensively in specialty gift shops, so the children of today can enjoy their fragrances.)

The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany. On this day, Christians remember Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan when he was an adult. A dove came down from the sky to rest on Jesus' head, and a voice spoke from heaven, saying, "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased."

The Transfiguration of Jesus falls on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. This day commemorates the day Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus on the mountain top, as Jesus was revealed to his disciples as the true Son of God. A voice also spoke from heaven on this day, which is the last day in the Season of Epiphany.

 

The Events of Holy Week

          Holy Week is the last week of Lent, when we follow Jesus from Palm Sunday, the Sunday of 

          the Passion, to his death on Good Friday in preparation for his rising from the dead on Easter

          Sunday.

Palm Sunday:Accompanied by his disciples, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, while crowds of people covered the streets ahead of him with their cloaks and with palm branches.

 

Monday: Jesus chased the money-changers out of the Temple.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Jesus preached and taught in Jerusalem.

Thursday: After washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus celebrated Passover, instituting the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He went to Gethsemane to pray, where he was arrested by the Temple guard and taken to an illegal night session of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin.

Good Friday: Jesus was taken into Roman courts, before Pilate and Herod, who sent him back to the Jewish court. Roman soldiers took him to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where he was crucified.

         Saturday: Jesus rested in the tomb while his disciples observed the Sabbath.

Easter Sunday: An angel met Mary and Mary Magdalene at the tomb to tell them that Jesus was risen from the dead.

 

The Ascension of Jesus falls forty days after Easter. It is the day the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, and it marks the end of Jesus' time on earth.

 

The Feast of Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter. Christians celebrate the appearance of the Holy Spirit on tongues of fire on the heads of Jesus' followers, who had met on that day to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Weeks.

 

The Holy Trinity is observed the Sunday after Pentecost. Christians honor the Triune God, God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Reformation Day, the last Sunday in October, is celebrated by Protestant Christians to honor Martin Luther and the positive changes he made in the daily lives of Christians. It falls during the season of Pentecost.

All Saints' Sunday, the first Sunday in November, is the day Christians give thanks for the faithful departed: all the good people God has put in their lives who now live with God in heaven. All Saints' Sunday falls during the season of Pentecost.

Christ the King is the last Sunday of Pentecost and of the church year, when Christians celebrate Christ Triumphant, ruler of everyone and everything on the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent.

 

 The information on this page was compiled by Dr. John F. Lamb, Jr.

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Texas A&M University @ Commerce from 1968 to 1996
Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor from 1996 to 2001

Dr. Lamb currently serves as the Webmaster for The First United Methodist Church in Belton, Texas.