Christians live by the secular or Gregorian calendar just as everyone else does. Anglicans also live by another year, another calendar (sometimes spelled “Kalendar”), known as the Church year. While this is generally very similar to the Church year observed by other western Catholic Christians, it is different in some details and some nomenclature.
There are eight basic seasons in the Church Year, as well as a considerable number of saints’ days and other special observances. This array is made somewhat confusing by the fact that some days of the Christian year fall on fixed dates of the secular calendar while others are “moveable feasts”, falling on dates which vary from year to year, depending upon the date of Christmas (always fixed), and Easter (fixed by the moon). Another fact to bear in mind is that the Church year begins with Advent in late November or early December.
The eight seasons of the Christian (Anglican) year are:
The dates of all of these seasons vary from year to year, except for Christmastide, which of course beings on December 25th, and Epiphanytide, which begins on January 6th.
In addition, there are twenty-three special holy days of observance specified in the Book of Common Prayer, which occur regularly on fixed dates, but are not directly associated with the above-named seasons. Another sixteen observances are listed in the Book of Common Prayer but are “moveable feats”, without fixed dates. Although not specified by the Prayer Book, other special saints’ days may be voluntarily observed by the pious faithful.
All of this information, and more, may be found in those introductory pages of the Book of Common Prayer numbered in small Roman numerals, and all too seldom consulted by good Anglicans! (See pp.vvi-lvii, BCP)
The church calendar is not of much use for keeping track of time, except in terms of Church Sundays and Holy Days. But it is an invaluable guide and aid to the constant repetition and clarification of the Christian story. It charts our path past all the mileposts of the Christian story. In a reasonably orderly manner, the Church year refreshes our memory of Christ’s coming, of His manifestation to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish world), of His temptation, His Passion, His Crucifixion, and Resurrection and Ascension, of the Baptism of the Church by the Holy Ghost. Then, during the long Trinity Season, it provides an opportunity for study and consideration of the moral teachings of the Bible and the practical duties of the Christian life. Along the way, it allows contemplation of various special occurrences in the Christian story (such as the Annunciation by Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, the Transfiguration of our Lord, etc.) and permits us to recall and be inspired by the lives and examples of the Apostles and other major saints.
Without this arrangement of the Church year, worship can become a disorderly and confused hodge-podge. With it, we review and relive, year by year, the facts and the meaning of God’s gift to us of His Blessed Son, that we might know the Truth and be set free forever.
It may be added that in the penitential season of Advent and Lent, our worship is somewhat muted by the omission of the Gloria and by the use of violet (purple) as the liturgical color. Weddings and other festivities and partying are also avoided during these seasons, and flowers are not used on the altar.
The color used liturgically for the seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Ascension is white, symbolizing purity, joy and hope. For Pentecost and martyrs’ days, the colors are changed to red, for fire and blood. During Trinitytide and most of Epiphanytide, the color of the hangings is green, for hope and peace. Epiphany itself, and its Octave (the following week) are marked by the use of white. Thus, not only does the Church year serve to remind us of the Christian story by the use of nomenclature, it reminds us through the ear by the use of appropriate Bible readings, and it reminds us through the eye by the use of color.