THE CHRISTIAN YEAR is dominated by two major cycles, or groups of festivals. The first, at the beginning of the church year, starts with Advent and leads to Christmas. But, at the heart of the Christian calendar, is the observance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This begins with the period of Lent, followed by Holy Week, the mourning of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. The other major Christian festival is Pentecost, which marks the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples.
Many priests wear different coloured vestments at different times in the church calendar. The colours vary, but red is often worn for Pentecost and green for the Sundays after Epiphany and Trinity, when the Holy Trinity is honoured.
“This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born Christ the Lord!”
Angel of the Lord to the shepherds
COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS
To most Christians, Advent is the period leading up to Christmas, including the four Sundays before 25 December. During this season, Christians celebrate the arrival of John the Baptist, the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus’ future second coming. Calendars offering a treat to eat on each day of Advent are traditional in many homes.
Jesus’ birth is celebrated on 25 December in most branches of the Christian church. People attend joyful services, decorate their homes, exchange presents, and eat festive meals. In the west, a traditional Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey with a selection of vegetables and sauces.
A crib is a model of the stable where Jesus was born, featuring the holy family, shepherds, animals, and magi. This example comes from El Salvador. Cribs are a good visual aid for teaching children about the Christmas story and are a reminder to all of the Christmas message.
GIFTS FOR THE GOOD
Epiphany, on 6 January, marks the visit of the magi to Bethlehem the first time that Jesus was revealed to non-Jews. In Spain, children believe that the magi come to give them presents. They put out fruit and nuts for “the magi”, who leave behind gifts for well-behaved children and sweets that look like coal for those who have misbehaved.
A SOLEMN TIME
Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a time for people to confess their sins and use up rich foods before Lent the 40-day period preceding Easter. Lent is a time of solemnity, penance, and devotion to God. It was originally a time of fasting, but today most Christians fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
On the Sunday before Easter, Christians commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. People take part in processions carrying, wearing, and waving palm leaves and palm crosses. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, the time when people remember the events that led up to the crucifixion.
A NEW LIFE
Easter is the feast of Jesus’ resurrection. In church, priests read the Gospel story of the resurrection and lead joyful prayers, hymns, and processions to celebrate the risen Christ. Eggs are seen as symbolic of Jesus’ new life, and many people eat chocolate eggs or decorate real eggs at Easter time.
Harvest festival is not part of the official church calendar, but Christians in many places get together each year to give thanks for the produce of the land. People sing special hymns and bring produce to churches to be distributed to the poor and needy. Some seaside towns celebrate the “harvest of the sea” brought in by local fishermen.
LIFE AND DEATH
All Soul’s Day, on 2 November, is a popular Catholic festival. It is a day when people pray for the souls of the dead and put flowers on family graves. People in Mexico celebrate two Days of the Dead at this time of year. They exchange gifts like this sugar skull as reminders of death and the continuity of life.