The “free church” tradition includes few or no ancient, liturgical forms. It also pays little attention to the “Church Calendar”, except for Christmas and Easter. Some ancient forms have stood the test of time, and can enrich church life and worship, when they fit the occasion. Even “non-liturgical” churches should at least be aware of the main sacred annual holidays.
Wise church leaders prepare God’s people well ahead of time with God’s Word to celebrate holidays in an edifying way. Sacred holidays, like the Old Testament annual feast days, offer opportunities to strengthen faith, especially the faith of children. Liturgical churches display a special color for each holiday and season, which appears in drapes, sashes, table cloths and posters. Some believers belittle such practices, overlooking the fact that many find rich meaning in them.
Western Church Yearly Calendar
(Eastern Church has slightly different dates)
Advent, the four weeks, including the four Sundays, before Christmas (purple).
Historically, the church has dedicated the first part of December to prepare believers to celebrate Jesus’ birth. During this Advent season, many teach Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s coming, and how God prepared His people Israel for His son’s sojourn.
Christmas, Jesus’ birth, Dec. 25 (white).
Epiphany. Celebration of the appearance of the three Magi on Jan. 6 (green).
Between Christmas and Epiphany, historically, the church prepares believers to worship Christ as King, and to dedicate their lives, talents, time and treasure to Him in response to the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Lent. Forty six days of preparation preceding Easter (purple until Good Friday, black until Easter, then white).
Ash Wednesday (purple) begins lent, historically, with confession of sin and reaffirmation of our repentance, an emphasis that continues throughout Lent.
During Lent, the historical pattern is to teach from the Old Testament about the animal sacrifices, especially the Passover and the Passover lamb, and the events leading up to the miraculous escape of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. New Testament teaching focuses the life of Jesus, culminating in the events of Holy Week, the final week before His resurrection.
Holy Week includes:
Palm Sunday. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, the Sunday before Easter (purple).
Maundy Thursday. Institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane, His arrest and trial (purple). “Maundy” comes from a Latin root that means mandate, and refers to Jesus’ command to remember Him with the Communion ceremony.
Good Friday. Crucifixion and burial (black).
Sabbath of Glory. Jesus’ rest in death over the Sabbath (black).
Easter. All events of the Church Year culminate in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection (white).
From Easter until Pentecost, the historical focus is on the appearances of the risen Christ and the Great Commission (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21). It also emphasizes the ascension of Jesus, and His present intercession for us as the God-man, in glory.
Pentecost. 50th day or 7th Sunday following Easter. Focus is on the Holy Spirit’s coming (red).
Trinity. First Sunday after Pentecost (white on Trinity Sunday, then green until Advent).
Trinity Sunday focuses on the nature of the Trinity, with emphasis on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Trinity until Advent. Sunday after Pentecost to the 4th Sunday before Christmas (green).
Focus is on all aspects of growth in Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s power.
Additional American holidays:
Father’s Day (3rd Sunday in June).
Mother’s Day (2nd Sunday in May).
Day of the Bible (last Sunday of September).
Thanksgiving (4th Thursday of November).
Independence Day (July 4).
Memorial Day (last Monday in May).
Labor Day (First Monday in September).