Since the eighth century, Advent has been the beginning or first season of the Christian year. Advent focuses on preparing for the coming of Christ. The term is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning to come. The season or period of Advent always includes the four Sundays before Christmas Day. (It begins with the Sunday closest to November 30 and ends with Christmas Eve day.) Because December 25 does not always fall on the same day of the week, the number of days in the Advent season varies from year to year. In 2017, Advent begins on Sunday, December 3.
Christmas is the day on which Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Although the actual day of the year of the birth is not known, most Christians in the Western world celebrate the birth on December 25. The word Christmas comes from the early English phrase Christes Masse, which means Christ’s Mass. The day is also commemorated as the Feast of the Nativity. In 2017, Christmas will be on Monday.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It marks the beginning of a period of reflection and penance. In the Bible, sprinkling oneself with ashes was traditionally a sign of one’s sorrow for having committed sins. In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday also marked the beginning of preparation for the understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ. The particular symbolism of ashes for this day comes from a practice in the Roman Catholic churches in which the ashes from the palms used in the preceding year’s Palm Sunday celebration are blessed. With these ashes, the priest on the first day of Lent marks a cross on the forehead of each worshiper. This practice has become a part of Ash Wednesday services in many United Methodist churches. In 2018, Ash Wednesday will be on February 14.
Lent is a season of 40 days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The 40 days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan. Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others. Sundays in Lent are not counted in the 40 days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. In 2018, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14 and ends on Saturday, March 31.
Easter is the day in the Christian calendar that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is the most important day in the calendar. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21; therefore, the date varies from March 22 to April 25. In 2018, Easter will be on Sunday, April 1.