The The Church Year is then divided into six seasons, beginning with Advent. The first Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday closest to St. Andrew the Apostle's Day (November 30th). The early part of this season is devoted to Christ's Second Coming in the lessons and liturgy; while in the latter part, especially the 3rd and 4th Sundays, the Christmas theme is prominent.
The nativity of Jesus is observed on the Christmas Festival, December 25 in the western church, and is the first primary festival, with two or three days devoted to its observance. It is followed by the feasts of Saint Stephen (December 26), Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle (December 27), and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem (December 28). Thus, it is said, the feast of the birth of the King of martyrs is followed by the “heavenly birthdays” of the first martyr in will and in deed, the apostolic martyr in will but not in deed, and the infant martyrs in deed but not in will.
It will be noted that December 25th falls nine months after March 25th, which is the Feast of the Annunciation. In the early Christian calendar March 25th was New Year's Day, as it was considered to be the beginning of the era of grace with the incarnation of the Son of God. It is still considered such in various parts of the church. However, the earliest references to this Feast come from the 5th Century, hundreds of years after the Nativity began to be celebrated in December.There are many other reasons why December 25th is the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, but that is not the purpose of this article. Perhaps we will have a future piece dedicated to that topic.
The eighth day of Christmas is the Festival of the Circumcision and the Name of Jesus; it concurs with the New Year's Day of the civil year. In the Western Church, the festival of Epiphany (which means "manifest"), January 6, recalls the episode of the Wise Men; but in the Eastern Church, this is counted as the Festival of Christ's Birth. In addition, as mentioned above, from very ancient times January 6th was celebrated as the date upon which Christ was baptized, and the date of His first miracle at Cana. These two events, along with the visit of the Magi to the Christ-child, were certainly occasions when He manifested His divinity. The number of Sundays in the post-Epiphany season varies with the date of the Festival of the Resurrection. (more on that later)
At first the Good Friday-Pascha event was thought of as being commemorated every Sunday. Indeed, the first festival commemorated annually was the Pascha. An early controversy about this date was settled A.D. 325 by the Council Nicaea which decreed that the anniversary of Christ's Resurrection be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox, or one week later if the full moon falls on Sunday.
Following the much more ancient Christian custom, I believe it best to refer to the Resurrection of Christ as the "Pascha," and the weeks surrounding it as the Paschal Season. The Greek word pascha is derived from Hebrew PeSaCH (פֶּסַח) meaning the festival of Passover, as it was during the celebration of the Jewish Passover that Christ the perfect Lamb of God was crucified, died, buried, and rose again. In addition, the Greek the word anastasis (upstanding, up-rising, resurrection) is often used as an alternative.
Ash Wednesday ends the period of Epiphany and begins the period of Lent
From early days Pascha was preceded by a period of preparation called Lent. The custom of fasting during this time was already widespread throughout the Church from a very early date, but the length of the fast varied. Finally the fast was extended to forty days (excluding Sundays), after the analogy of the period of the Lord's temptation (Matthew 4:2). Ash Wednesday (so called from the custom of daubing the foreheads of worshipers on that day with ashes of the previous year's palms, in token of penitence and human mortality) has been the first day of Lent since at least the Sixth Century. The season of preparation for Easter closed with Holy Week. Thursday of Holy Week commemorated the institution of the Lord's Supper. It is called Holy Thursday by some, and its present name, Maundy Thursday, is derived from the Latin translation of the beginning words of Jesus in John 13:34, mandatum novum do vobis, "a new commandment I give you, that you love one another." Good Friday was a day of deep mourning, with a complete fast till 6:00 PM.
Forty days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3) came the Festival of the Ascension, which was celebrated from the early Fourth Century. Pentecost, which comes from the Greek word "pentekostos," or “fiftieth”, is observed on the fiftieth day after the Pascha, and its celebration can be traced to the Second Century. It is also called Whitsunday, from white garments worn on that day.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity, the fourth and final great festival of the Church Year follows on the Sunday after Pentecost. In the second part of the Church Year, the post-Trinity season, there are no festivals of the first rank. The number of Sundays after Trinity varies depending on the date of the Pascha.
After the Sixth Century, the number of festivals in the Church increased rapidly. In particular, with the increased, though misplaced, veneration of Mary her festivals became more numerous. The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the conception of our Lord, was fixed for March 25, and that of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary for February 2; the latter festival is known as Candlemas, from the custom of blessing candles, carrying them in procession, and holding them lighted during the reading of the Gospel. Mary's meeting with Elizabeth is commemorated on the Feast of the Visitation, July 2.
However, relatively few commemorations of other Biblical saints have survived. The same is true of most saints, martyrs, and events from after Apostolic times. One fairly recent exception is The Festival of the Reformation, October 31, commemorating the posting of Dr. Luther's 95 Theses, which dates back to the end of the Sixteenth Century.