With the year drawing to a close, Christmas has already come and gone. But apart from the 25th of December, how many other important days of the Christian calendar do we really know of? Here is a small list of some of the major Christian festivals celebrated all over the world:
1. Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night)
The 6th of January every year all over the world, with the exception of 18th January in Russia and 1st February in Ethiopia, is celebrated as Epiphany. The word itself is derived from the Greek word epiphaneia which literally means manifestation. This day celebrates three events that are all thought to have happened on this very same day, namely, the first appearance of Jesus Christ as a newborn to the Magi, the three wise men; the baptism of Jesus, when God acknowledged his son; and the first public miracle by the Christ, when he turned water to wine in Galilee.
2. Ash Wednesday
The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance for Christians, when they make amends for the year’s sins before the culminating period of fast in the Lent. It occurs forty-six days before Easter and can fall as early as the 4th of February or as late as the 10th of March. Anglican and Roman Catholic churches hold ceremonies at which the foreheads of churchgoers are marked with crosses using ash. Many other Christians, such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists also hold this day in great reverence and celebrate it with equal fervour.
3. Shrove Tuesday (also called Mardi Gras)
The day before the start of Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday or “Fat Tuesday”, when Christians traditionally eat up any leftover animal products (often in the form of pancakes) as these cannot be eaten during Lent. Generally held in the month of February, the exact date of Mardi Gras varies according to the Easter schedule. The phrase is derived from the word shrive which means “confess”. It is widely considered by many Christians as a special time of introspection, during which they consider what sins they need to repent, and what areas of life and spiritual growth need amendments and God’s help.
The forty four days before Good Friday, including Sundays, Lent is a period of fasting when Christians identify with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Lasting for a period of approximately six weeks, the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. This festival is celebrated in commemoration of the same amount of time taken by the Christ to fast in the desert all the while resisting the temptation of evil from Satan, as mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark, three of Christ’s favourite disciples.
5. Palm Sunday
The Sunday before Easter Sunday and the first day of Holy Week (the period of one week before Easter), Palm Sunday commemorates the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, where the crowd threw palm leaves in front of his donkey and cheered his triumphal entry. This important event has been mentioned with much emphasis in all the Gospels of the Bible. Later that week, many in the devoted crowd of worshippers were calling for the execution of the Christ.
6. Maundy (also known as Holy Thursday)
The Thursday before Easter Sunday, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which established the ceremony of the Holy Communion, when bread and wine came to be respectively identified with the body and blood of the Christ. It was also the day when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. At a Roman Catholic church services on Maundy Thursday, the priest ceremonially washes the feet of twelve people during mass. Maundy is the fifth day of the Holy Week, and is usually falls between the 19th of March and the 22nd of April.
7. Good Friday
The Friday before Easter Sunday, Good Friday is spent in remembrance of the day when Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans. The “good” in Good Friday is its form in Early Modern English and means “holy”. The symbol of the cross is an important part of church services on this day, and churchgoers read the psalms and the gospels to remember the Christ’s painful experience. Good Friday sometimes coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, and is a time of solemn prayer and charity for Christians.
8. Easter Sunday
The Sunday that follows the first full moon after the 21st of March (which is also the spring equinox), Easter always falls between 22nd of March and 25th of April in the Western calendar. Easter is up to two weeks later in Orthodox Churches. Easter Sunday is the most important day in the Christian calendar, as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Sunday is a joy of Christians. Easter is a joyful time, with family gatherings and festive meals, along with the distribution and consumption of Easter egg candies and other gifts.
9. Pentecost (also known as Whitsunday)
Fifty days after Easter Sunday, Pentecost celebrates the day the Holy Spirit entered the Apostles, enabling them to speak many new languages and spread the word of God. This event is considered by most Christians to mark the birth of the Church. Massive church processions, festive meals, and the holy ceremonies of Confirmation, Ordination, and Communion mark this festival. In some countries, folk customs such as dancing, woodland rites, and ethnic clothing ceremonies are also observed.
The celebration of the birth of Jesus, Christmas falls on the 25th of December every year, with the exception of the 6th of January in Russia and the 17th of January in Ethiopia. It is arguably the biggest Christian festival of the year, as most of us know. The word itself is derived from the Old English Crīstesmæsse, literally meaning “Christ’s mass” and is also referred to as the Yule and Nativity. Christmas trees and stars are symbolic of this occasion, and carols are sung in churches decorated with holly and mistletoe. The jolly old figure of Santa Claus is associated with the Yuletide traditions of wish-making and gift-giving. It is a season to be merry, indeed, with all its feasts and warmth.