Today marks the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of the Christian calendar.
Here are nine things should know about the cycle of liturgical seasons observed within many Christian churches:
1. The Christian calendar (also known as the liturgical calendar or ecclesiastical calendar) is an annual schedule that commemorates certain days and seasons related to the history of salvation. Some denominations—including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians—observe most of the traditional calendar, while other denominations—including Baptists and most nondenominational evangelical congregations—tend to focus on only a few dates, such as Christmas and Easter. During the Reformation, many of the Reformers retained only what they called the “evangelical feast days.” “Instead of viewing these days as a part of the Christian’s accomplishment of his or her salvation,” says Daniel Hyde, “they viewed celebrating these days as a celebration of the salvation which Christ had already accomplished for them in his Incarnation (Christmas), death (Good Friday), resurrection (Easter), ascending to the Father (Ascension), and giving of his Spirit (Pentecost). They were seen as invaluable times to celebrate Christ and his Gospel.”
2. Advent, which marks the start of the new liturgical year, always begins on Advent Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The term Advent is taken from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming,” and was from the translation of the Greek Parousia—a word used for both the coming of Christ in human flesh and his Second Coming. The season of Advent is a time when Christians reflect on the comings of Christ to Earth. The first two weeks of the season focus on the future return of Christ at the Second Coming, while the last two weeks focus on the coming celebration of Christmas. As Ryan Reeves notes, the first written evidence of Advent is found in modern Spain and Europe, and the earliest official mention of Advent practices comes as the Council of Sargossa (AD 380). Since the date of Christmas has been set on December 25, the first day of Advent changes slightly from year to year.
3. On the Christian calendar the Christmas season (often know as Christmastide) begins on December 25 and lasts for twelve days, ending on Epiphany (January 6). “Christmas” is a compound word originating in the term “Christ’s Mass,” derived from the Middle…