There are two significant events which all Christian traditions commemorate every year: Christmas and Easter. There are also several other points in the year which are marked by some churches but not others. These may be longer periods, for example, the six weeks of Lent before Easter or the four weeks of Advent before Christmas. They can also be single days such as Pentecost or Ascension Day. And in some churches almost every day of the year is assigned to remember the life of a saint or significant figure. 'Saints' are Christians who were particularly by some traditions such as the Roman Catholic Church, and have been credited with miraculous events. Many are martyrs who were killed for their faith. Some of these saints’ days are well-known. These include St David’s on 1 March; St Patrick’s (17 March); St George’s (23 April) and St Andrew’s (30 November).
There are two significant events which all Christian traditions commemorate every year: Christmas and Easter.
Advent and Christmas – November and December
In western churches, Christmas Day always falls on 25 December. In the eastern, Orthodox Church it is celebrated in early January. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ around 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Advent is seen as a time of preparation, looking back to Christ’s birth and looking forward to his second coming. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day – so it can fall any time between 27 November and 3 December. In the Anglican Church, Advent is seen as the beginning of the church year. Some Christian traditions begin Advent slightly earlier.
Epiphany - January
This falls on 6 January (or 19 January in the Orthodox Church). It commemorates the visit by the Wise Men to the infant Jesus to give him gifts. Traditionally it is known as Twelfth Night, when people take down their Christmas decorations. It is also the date when some Christians mark the baptism of Jesus at the age of about 30 in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Epiphany is particularly celebrated by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Lent, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday – February/March/April
Lent is a period of about six weeks running up to Easter. It begins in February or March on Ash Wednesday – 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. The exact dates vary because the date for Easter changes every year. Many Christians go to church on Ash Wednesday to seek forgiveness from God for what they have done wrong. Lent is a time of solemnity and self-reflection for Christians and many will fast from certain foods or activities. The day before Lent is traditionally marked by feasting and celebration. In the UK it is known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. In other parts of the world, it is called Mardi Gras.
Holy Week and Easter - March or April
The date for Easter changes each year but always falls in March or April. The timing is linked to the phases of the moon and the Jewish festival of Passover. Easter commemorates the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ in around 30AD and his resurrection, which is celebrated on Easter Sunday. Holy Week marks the final week before Easter and begins on the previous Sunday:
Palm Sunday: the day Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey greeted by adoring crowds waving the branches of palm trees. (After Palm Sunday, some Christians will also mark other events described in the Bible which took place on the following days).
Maundy Thursday: thought to be the night of Jesus' betrayal and arrest. He was taken by soldiers after celebrating the Jewish feast of Passover with his closest followers at a meal known as The Last Supper.
Good Friday: the day of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Many churches mark the last hours of his life with a special, solemn service. The Bible book of Mark records the time of Jesus’ death as 3pm.
Easter Sunday: the most significant date in the Christian calendar. This marks the day that Jesus rose from the dead. His followers discovered that his tomb was empty. He appeared to them and hundreds of other people over a period of six weeks.
Ascension Day – April or May
This falls on a Thursday in April or May. It is the fortieth day after Easter Sunday. It commemorates the day when Jesus ascended back into heaven from the Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem.
Pentecost (Whit Sunday) – May or June
This falls seven weeks after Easter Sunday and can be seen as the birth of the Christian church. It marks the day Jesus’ closest followers had a supernatural experience of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. This inspired and empowered them to preach about Jesus and miraculously heal people just as he had done.
Other festivals, feast days and holy days
Candlemas or The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple: Celebrated on or around 2 February. It marks the time when Jesus was taken to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as an infant to be formally inducted into the Jewish faith.
The Annunciation: This is particularly celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is marked on 25 March and remembers the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus.
All Saints’ Day commemorates the Christian belief that there is life after death.
Mothering Sunday: This falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent in March or April. Initially a day to celebrate the motherly nature of the Church, it is now an occasion to thank mothers and celebrate motherhood.
Trinity Sunday: It is the first Sunday after Pentecost and falls in May or June. It is the day when the church celebrates the ‘Trinity’ – the three persons of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Corpus Christi: This falls in late May or June on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. It celebrates the Eucharist or Communion – the ceremony of remembrance initiated by Jesus. In this festival Christians remember Jesus’ death by eating bread and drinking wine.
The Assumption: This feast, on 15 August, marks the taking up into heaven (assumption) of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This event is not recorded in the Bible and is not marked by many Christians, but is a significant date in the calendar for many others, including Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
All Saints’ Day: Celebrated on 1 November. It commemorates the Christian belief that there is life after death. It is when Christians celebrate that all people who follow Jesus Christ and his teachings will be reunited in heaven after they die.