Most Christians celebrate at least two holidays: Christmas and Easter. Christmas, of course, commemorates the birth of Jesus, and Easter remembers His resurrection. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (which is March 20th). So it always falls somewhere between March 22nd and April 25th. Next year it will be on April 21st.
But there are other lesser-known holidays that should not be forgotten. All Saints’ Day is one of them. It always falls on November 1st, right after Halloween. Halloween has sometimes been labelled as the devil’s holiday (and there are some odd customs associated with it), but its origin lies in the fact that it is the day before All Saints Day. All Hallows’ Eve is similar Christmas Eve in that sense. In the Bible the saints of God are considered “hallowed” – i.e. they are consecrated for God’s eternal purposes. This is different from the idea of having a religious group of canonized individuals, which was a much later development. All baptized believers in Christ are “saints” in the broader sense. And All Saints’ Day is a celebration of these saints who have gone before us. We look back and remember their lives and contributions. We light a candle in their memory, and we learn from their faith as we ponder our own Christian legacy.
Ascension Day is another significant lesser-known Christian holiday. It’s on the 40th day of Eastertide (always on a Thursday). On Ascension Day we remember Jesus’ ascension into heaven (in Acts 1:6-11). Next year it will be on May 30th.
And then ten days later we have Pentecost, on June 9th of 2019. I noticed that many of our church members wear red on Pentecost. This is seasonally appropriate, since that’s when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem (in Acts 2:1-13). Red represents the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Those dates will come in the spring and early summer. Before them, we will be observing Ash Wednesday on March 6th of 2019. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which was created originally for new confirmands being baptized on Easter Sunday. Mindful of the significance of 40 days as a standard period for spiritual movements/transformations in the Bible (e.g. Matthew 4:1-11, Jonah 3:4, etc.), Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation before Easter. Eventually its observance was expanded to include everyone in the church besides the confirmands.
A common practice in the Old Testament was to wear sackcloth (i.e. burlap) and use ashes when practicing repentance (e.g. II Samuel 3:31, Job 42:6, Jonah 3:5-9, Matthew 11:21). Ashes also remind us of our mortality – since we are made from dust and we shall return to the dust (Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This points us to our need for God.
It took me awhile to figure out how Lent is structured. It consists of 40 days, but it excludes the Sundays. Each Sunday during Lent is considered like a mini-Easter. Perhaps for some it’s a bit of a reprieve from the Lenten disciplines. So, excluding Sundays, Lent is the 40-day season prior to Easter. And since Ash Wednesday is dated by its relation to Easter, its dates can range from February 4th to March 10th. Next year it will be on March 6th.
May God richly bless each one of you in observing these holy-days.
Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.