Know Your Story: Christian Traditions
Colors of the Christian Calendar

            Just like we use our typical January-December Gregorian Calendar to designate different times of the year, to mark holidays and special events, the Christian Church has, for many centuries, used the Christian Calendar to demark seasons and holidays in the life of the Church. This calendar is made up of seven season, with special days being observed throughout those seasons. These seasons and days honor the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of God. We use these seasons and special days to remind us of the events that are important to our lives and story as Christians. They tell us the story of our faith year after year and help us structure our worship services.
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            The chart to the right lays out the various seasons of the year. The Christian year has two cycles: the Christmas Cycle: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, and the Easter Cycle: Lent-Easter-Pentecost. Each cycle begins with a time of preparation leading up to the major holiday event (Christmas and Easter). The time between these two cycles is called Ordinary Time, and this is seen as a time of learning and growth.

            Because humans are very visual learners, the various seasons of the Christian Calendar have been marked by the use of different colors for the paraments (cloths used in worship) and other church decorations. Purple/Blue, White/Gold, Red, and Green have been standardized as the colors to represent each season, and each color carries its own symbolism and meaning.

            Advent and Lent, as seasons of preparation, are marked by the colors Purple or Blue. Both colors symbolize royalty, that of Christ, and repentance, our act of turning back to God as we prepare to honor the life and work of Jesus at Christmas and Easter. These two celebrations serve as the center-points for the two cycles of the Christian year. They are marked by the colors White or Gold, signifying purity and importance. The color Red is utilized for one special celebration in the Christian year: Pentecost. Red, the color of fire, is used to symbolize and represent the Holy Spirit, and the coming of the Spirit into the lives of all believers. After these two cycles of the year are over, we move into Ordinary Time. This is the time between the Christmas season and Lent, and between Pentecost and Advent. These are commonly seen as times of learning about God, about faith, and about what it means to live the Christian life. They are also seen as times when our faith is encouraged to grow and develop greater maturity. It is because of this intention that the color Green is used for Ordinary Times. Green, the color of plants in growth, signifies the growth that Christians are encouraged to undergo as we await once again our greatest stories: the birth and death of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to us all.

            Not all churches utilize these color schemes for their church decorations, nor do all churches use them continuously. But when these colors are employed through decorations around the church and the clothes that cover the altar in the worship space, they are used for a purpose, they are intended to communicate a greater meaning and purpose. The next time you walk into a church and see these colors, be reminded of the season we are in, and the greater story we are being invited to remember through them. Right now, we are in Ordinary Time, marked by the color of growth, Green. Use this time, these Church traditions, and the greater story we are learning, to deepen your faith in God, and strengthen you entire life as a follower of Christ!


 


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