Festivals, Fasts and Special Days

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The Church Year

The Church’s annual cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent to the last Sunday after Pentecost. It is built around the two important festivals which celebrate the birth of Jesus (Christmas) and the death and resurrection of Jesus (Easter).

FestivalReason (Liturgical Colour)
AdventPreparation for Christmas (Purple)
ChristmasCelebration of the birth of Jesus (Gold)
EpiphanyThe arrival of the Wise Men (White)
Ash WednesdayThe beginning of Lent (Purple)
LentPreparation for Easter - think about Christian Duty (Purple)
Holy WeekRemembering the last week of Jesus' life (Purple)
Palm SundayJesus arrives in Jerusalem
Maundy ThursdayThe Last Supper and washing of the disciples feet
Good FridayThe Crucifixion
EasterCelebration of the resurrection of Jesus (Gold)
AscensionJesus returns to his Father in heaven (White)
PentecostThe coming of the Holy spirit to the disciples (Red)
Harvest FestivalA service of thanksgiving for creation (Green)

Note: The colour from Pentecost to Advent is Green



  • Lent is of forty days duration and stretches from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter.
  • Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of burning little crosses from the previous Easter and making a cross on the forehead in ash. The ash reminds Christians that they are sinners and need God's forgiveness.
  • Christians are expected to do acts of penance (to give something up) in Lent i.e. something that they enjoy, such as sweets or tobacco.
  • Some do works of charity.
  • Many take up extra religious devotions, such as attending church daily.
  • These practices are a kind of spiritual training intended to provide practice in denying your own urges.
  • Such self-denial is an essential element in moral living, as without it you will not be able to resist urges to do evil.
  • It is also a way of doing penance for your sins
  • On Ash Wednesday Catholics abstain from meat and fast, which means that they eat very little.
  • It is thought that Lent lasts for 40 days to represent the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).
  • Lent ends with Holy Week The main days of Holy Week are Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Holy Week

Palm Sunday
  • Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.
  • It remembers Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem when the crowd welcomed him as the Messiah by laying palm leaves at his feet.
Holy Thursday
  • Also known as Maundy Thursday
  • The word ‘Maundy’ comes from Latin ‘Mandate’ or Commandment. At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
  • In some churches is remembered as the day when Jesus instituted the Eucharist (the last supper- Mark 14:17-26).
  • Some churches have an evening ceremony in memory of this event where people will sit and pray all night.
  • In some churches the occasion where Jesus showed his humility by washing the disciples feet is re-enacted (John 13:1-15)
  • The Queen still gives out ‘Maundy Money’
Good Friday
  • Good Friday remembers the day of Jesus' crucifixion, when by his death he paid the price of sin and saved humanity.
  • It is always treated as a sorrowful day. Many Christians fast and abstain from meat on this day as signs of penance and sorrow.
  • Churches differ in their worshiping practices, but most like to have a ceremony in mid afternoon, around the time of Jesus' death.
  • In recent years the practice of having ecumenical (all denominations) services on Good Friday has tended to develop.
  • Such services, which unite all Christians, tend to be in the evening.


Easter Sunday (probably the most important day in the church's year) celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead to new life for himself and all who believe.
  • Many churches hold a Paschal Vigal late on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.
  • In some churches the building is darkened, the presiding minister lights the Paschal Candle from the new fire, the light he has just lit.
  • This candle is used to light all other candles in the church. It is a sign of the light of life breaking out of the darkness of death, and of Christ's victory over sin and death.
  • The lighting of other candles from the Paschal Candle symbolises receiving light and life from Christ.
  • In the Early Church baptisms were performed at Easter, and often still are. Confirmation may sometimes be performed if a bishop or priest authorised to confirm is present.
  • The congregation renew their baptismal vows in the Paschal Vigil.

Pentecost (Whitsun)

  • Pentecost is sometimes known as Whit Sunday.
  • It is fifty days after Easter Sunday.
  • It celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christians in Jerusalem after the Resurrection.
  • The Holy Spirit entered the room like a strong wind and settled on their heads like tongues of fire, they started speaking in other languages (Glossolalia)
  • Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, given to the Church as a whole and to each believer in particular.
  • Jesus promised to the Apostles that he would send them the Holy Spirit, the giver of spiritual life and strength.
  • After he coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers felt strengthened and began the process of spreading the gospel to the world.
  • Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church.


  • 'Advent' comes from the Latin word meaning coming.
  • It is a time of preparation for Christmas
  • During the four weeks of Advent the Scripture readings in many churches concentrate on the events leading up to Christ's birth, such as the ministry of John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah.
  • In Roman Catholic churches the priest wears purple vestments as a sign of sorrow for sin.
  • People often have advent calendars and candles which are symbols of the counting down to the festival of Christmas.
  • Some Churches many have Christingle services.


  • Advent ends with Christmas, the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem.
  • Christians believe that Jesus was born of a human being (Mary) so as to be able to share human feelings, and of God so as to have divine power.
  • Christmas is a celebration of the ‘Incarnation’
  • Christmas services vary, but some churches hold a midnight mass or communion service late on the night of Christmas Eve.
  • This service is in many churches preceded by a carol concert.
  • Some churches have a crib, a model of the stable at Bethlehem, which is on show until 6th January
  • Many Christmas customs, such as presents, feasting, Christmas trees and the Yule log have nothing to do with Christianity. Some, such as the Yule log and the Christmas tree, are relics of the old pagan midwinter festival.
  • Christmas is a time for families to get together.
  • Often they give presents to each other, remembering the gifts that the wise men brought Jesus.
  • Local charities often open up shelters over the Christmas period.
  • Christmas for Voluntary services such as the Samaritans often find their services in much demand as Christmas can be a sad and lonely time for people on their own.

The Epiphany

  • The Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on 6th January.
  • Epiphany comes from Greek word meaning to show or reveal
  • It is a celebration of when Christ was revealed to non-Jews i.e. the coming of the Magi or wise men.
  • The wise men were not Jews, so Christians see in their visit a sign that Christ's message is for all nations.
  • The Orthodox Church's calendar celebrates Christmas and Epiphany on January the sixth
  • The three gifts are meant to be clues to Jesus’ identity:

    • Gold for a King
    • Frankincense as an offering to God
    • Myrrh a reminder of Jesus’ death.


  • The idea of Sunday comes from the Jewish practice of keeping the Sabbath (Holy day). The Jewish Sabbath lasts from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The third commandment forbids any work.
  • The Early Church took Sunday as their Sabbath because of Jesus’ resurrection – on the first day of the week.
  • When Emperor Constantine became a Christian he declared that Sunday should be a day of rest.
  • Many Christians go to a church service on Sunday. Catholics have an obligation to go to mass.
  • At church Christians receive a weekly lesson from the Bible. The minister will then give a talk or sermon which will help the congregation understand the passage from the bible, this helps them develop as Christians. Young Christians may attend Sunday school.
  • Some strict Protestant Churches are known as Sabbatarians and don’t do any work on Sunday
  • Most Christians think it is important to go to Church but spent the remainder of the day with their family or pursuing their leisure interests.

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