Seasons and Festivals
Major Festivals
Picture, Floral Displays
The church divides the year into eight main Seasons, each with one or more Major Festivals, that remind us of the important times in the life and work of God and Jesus, and consequently have major significance for his followers, and so are usually observed by most Christians. (Return to top)

As well as the seasons and major festivals, the church celebrates several 'Special Days' (Minor Festivals) throughout the year to remember, honour or support our work in God's world. Celebration of the "Special Days" is usually optional, Christians chose which they want to remember. (Return to top)
The Eight Major Festivals
Advent
Picture, At Second Coming
Advent is derived from the Latin 'adventus' which means' coming'. It's a season of preparation and expectant waiting. In Advent, Christians celebrate two 'comings'. On the one hand we prepare to celebrate Christmas, which recalls the first coming of Jesus in human form as Saviour of the world, just over 2000 years ago, and on the other hand we see it as a time of preparation and waiting for his promised second coming as Judge of humanity at some time in the future, the end of time, when he will bring about a new and perfect heaven and earth. (Return to Top)

The season of Advent always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is usually the last Sunday in November, but occasionally the first Sunday in December depending on the calendar that year. In the western churches this marks the beginning of the new church year (Eastern Orthodox churches start their new church year on 1st September). (Return to Top)

As with Lent (which is also a season of expectant waiting for Easter) the church celebrates the season of Advent with austerity, self reflection, fasting, and study. Study, may be done on one's own, eg: reading a suitable book, or it can be done together by attending a course with others, either on a single occasion or every week throughout the season of Advent. (Return to Top)

Austerity: It's usual to remove from the church all flowers and adornments during the whole season of advent.

Self-reflection and fasting: This is similar to the self-reflection during Lent and is a time for bringing to mind one's failure to keep God's laws and being sorry for it, except in Advent it also includes reflecting on our readiness for the promised period of judgment at the end of time. (Return to Top)

Study: To improve oneself and one's knowledge of Christianity, and so be better prepared for the second coming of Jesus, and to help remember the Christmas events and heighten the expectation of Christmas Day, Advent customs often include: (Return to Top)
Advent Calendar
Picture, An Advent Calendar
This is a special card with a religious or secular Christmas picture incorporating 25 openable flaps, called doors. One door is opened each day throughout Advent until all are open by Christmas Day (December 25th). Behind each door is a picture or extract of the Christmas account of Jesus' birth based on the Bible. Variations on this theme are available, such as a candle with 25 rings painted on the body which is lit each day until one ring has burnt down, then blown out until being lit the next day and burnt down to the next ring, etc. Advent calendars are usually used by children to heighten their expectation of Christmas. (Return to Top)
Advent 'Ring' or 'Wreath'
Picture, Advent Ring
The wreath is made from a ring of evergreen branches to symbolise eternal life, on which is mounted five candles. The colour and meaning of the candles varies according to different traditions but a common form is three purple candles and one pink in the outer circle, plus a fifth, white candle in the centre. The candles represent (1) The early Jewish patriahs (Abraham, Isaiah, Jacob, etc), (2) the prophets of the Old Testament, (3) John The Baptist, and (4) Mary, the Mother of Jesus (the pink candle). The fifth, white candle in the centre represents Jesus himself. Candle 1 is lit in the first week of Advent, candle 1 and 2 in the second week, etc until all 5 candles are lit on Christmas Day. The candles symbolise the Light of God being gradually revealed to us and then coming into the world through his son, Jesus Christ. (Return to Top)
Carols
Picturre, Carol Singers
Churches used to sing 'Advent Carols' (special songs) during this season, and didn't sing 'Christmas Carols' until on and after Christmas Day. Advent Carols are now less well known, so whilst many churches still have a special 'Carol Service' in Advent, they often now sing Christmas Carols instead. (For more detail, see Special Days - Nine Lessons and Carols). (Return to Top)
Christingle
Picture, A Christingle
In 1968, the Church of England's Children's Society reintroduced the old German custom of the Christingle, originally as a way to help their Society raise funds. However, the idea caught on and a 'Christingle Service' is now held in many churches and schools as a way of introducing children to the wonder of Christmas, and sometimes still collecting money for the Children's Society too! The Service is usually held either in December before Christmas (the Advent Season) or after Christmas in January (the Christmas Season) (For more detail, see Special Days - Christingle). (Return to Top)
Posada
Picture, Posada Figures
Posada' is a Spanish word that means 'Lodging or Shelter' and is based on a custom from Mexico. The model figures of Mary and Joseph used in the church Crib Service (see below) are passed from house to house through the parish with a little ceremony and prayer at each handover. The figures stay one or two nights in each house, until they arrive in the church on Christmas Eve, ready for the celebration of Christmas Day. Like the Christingle, it helps to explain the Christmas story for children and heightens their interest in the Christmas event. (Return to Top)
Crib Service
Picture, A Crib Scene
The Bible tells us that Mary, Jesus' earthly mother, and Joseph her husband, lived in Nazareth in Israel, but just before Jesus was born, they had to travel to the town of Bethlehem to be registered for a census. They travelled some 100 miles by donkey, but because Mary was pregnant they travelled slowly, so when they arrived in Bethlehem there were no vacant rooms left at the inns and they had to lodge in a stable, which is where Jesus was born. Consequently, he was laid in a manger (a cattle feeding trough) instead of in a proper baby bed or 'crib' (see Luke, chapter 2). The Crib service remembers those events and is popular with children who often come to the Service dressed up as the characters in the account - shepherds, angels and wise men. (Return to Top)

The Service is usually held just before Christmas Day, either in the church with model figures to represent the characters of the story, or else in the open air outside, using a real donkey and real people to depict the characters. (Return to Top)