Introduction to the Christian Year by Mark D. Roberts

In my last post, I began describing the Christian year (or liturgical year, or church year). Today, I want to provide an overview of this year in case you are not familiar with it. Before I do this, however, I should say that there is not one, universally-recognized version of the Christian year. In fact, you’ll find variation in timing and practices, sometimes even within one denomination or tradition. For example, many Presbyterian churches use purple as a primary Advent color, while other Presbyterian churches use royal blue, and other Presbyterian churches decorate their worship spaces with secular Christmas colors of red and green without paying much attention to Advent. None of these choices is necessarily wrong or right, though, as you may guess, I would encourage any church to recognize Advent and be enriched by its themes. Color schemes are clearly secondary in importance.

All versions of the Christian year, to my knowledge, recognize Christmas and Easter as the twin hubs around which rotate a wide variety of feasts, fasts, and seasons of the year. But, even the specific dates for Christmas and Easter vary among different Christian traditions. So, the Christian year I’m going to describe is a version of the Western tradition, which you’ll find in many Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church.

Here, in summary form, are the basic days and seasons of the church year, along with some of the main themes:


When: Begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. Includes all days until Christmas (or Christmas Eve). Length varies according to date of first Sunday. The beginning of the Christian year.

Themes: Waiting; Expectation; Hope; Yearning; Our need for a Savior. A minor theme of joy. Christians remember the Jewish yearning for the “advent” (from Latin for “coming” or “visit”) of the Messiah. We also get in touch with our hope for the Messiah’s second advent.


When: December 25th through January 5, a twelve-day season. Many Christians begin celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. Of course most people think of Christmas as a day, not a season. But, as the song narrates, there are twelve days of Christmas.

Themes: Celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God; Salvation; Joy; Kingdom; Peace; Giving.

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