We end the Twelve Days on Epiphany, January 6, the day that the church celebrates the coming of the wise men. On occasion, we host an Epiphany party and there are many traditions that go with this.
I like comparing the Church Calendar to a wheel, with Christ as the hub. Christmas is the first of several celebrations of the Christian life that are in the circle of the Church Year. Once Epiphany is passed, the church calendar moves into a segment of days entitled Ordinary Time for the rest of January and February. There are two time periods described as such during a year. This is the time when we focus on God working in our lives in wonderful ways in the ordinary days between the great Christian celebrations of the year: Easter and Christmas. Thus in a year, there is the increase of elation associated with the special days and the calmness of “ordinary” days.
But near the end of February the season of Lent starts. We have been less faithful in keeping Lent, but still try to make it special. It is the period of 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter.
Though the Church Calendar year actually begins with Advent, the dates for the calendar are set by Easter, the highlight of the Christian year and life. After passing through Lent, and thinking about Jesus’ suffering in numerous ways, March or April brings the joy of Easter.
Easter Sunday and the special days connected with it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars. In 46 BC Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar, which the Roman Empire and the western world used until 1582. At this point, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar by correcting complications with leftover time as related to the cycles of the sun and moon.
The church then used this calendar to establish what is known as the Church Calendar today. A day for celebrating the resurrection and Pentecost was set by the second century. Perhaps Easter was earlier. By the fourth century, other Christian celebrations were added to the Church Calendar and changes have been rare.
The date for Easter in the western church is set by the cycles of the sun and moon, coupled with consultation of the Gregorian calendar tables. It is the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical, rather than astronomical, full moon, on or after the vernal equinox, the time when there is as much day light as there is darkness.
Once established, Easter is placed on the Gregorian calendar some time between March 22 and April 25. As Easter is the first holiday set in the Christian Calendar, it becomes the starting point for establishing all the other movable holidays in the Christian year.
We can have the joy of Easter for seven full weeks following Easter Sunday, for in the Church Calendar, Easter is more than one Sunday in the spring. It is a season known as Eastertide. The succeeding Sundays are referred to, among other things, as the Second Sunday of Easter, the Third Sunday of Easter, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, etc.
By Mary Ann Eagleson
Mary Ann Eagleson has a Masters in Christian Education. She her husband Bruce have homeschooled their four children, ages twenty-six to sixteen, since 1981.
—Originally published in Homeschooling Today magazine, “God’s Word Does Not Return Void” issue, 2009