The Church Year


The Episcopal Church takes part in the ancient Christian tradition of following set forms of rhythm for our worship and for our church year. The sequence of festivals from Advent to Resurrection Sunday becomes an annual spiritual journey for worshipers as they kneel at the manger, listen on a hillside, walk the streets of Jerusalem, hear the roar of the mob, stand beneath the cross, and witness the resurrection!  During these times the Bible readings and colors are chosen for their appropriateness to the season.


Advent – Blue

The first season of the church year, beginning with the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continuing through the day before Christmas is Advent. The name is derived from a Latin word for “coming.” The season is a time of preparation and expectation for the coming celebration of our Lord’s nativity, and for the final coming of Christ “in power and glory.” Following the tradition of the Sarum Rite (an old English rite), Blue is the color for Advent. During the Middle Ages, when blue was an expensive color to reproduce, purple was often used instead. This is why you still see some churches using purple in Advent. Also, purple was used by churches that followed the Roman rite as opposed to the Sarum Rite. Theologically, however, blue is the proper color for this season, because Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin, and Advent is all about Mary as we await with her the arrival of the Incarnate God. Blue is the color of hope, expectation, confidence, and anticipation. These are all adjectives which describe the season of Advent.

Christmas — White

White is the color of both Easter and Christmas. It is the color of celebration, joy, and peace in the western world. With the color gold, white symbolizes the greatest work of God in the world, specifically His incarnation into this world at Christmas, and His triumph over death and evil at Easter. White is the color used for funerals, as we celebrate the passage of another soul into the Kingdom of God. Likewise, it is the color of baptisms and weddings, as we celebrate the arrival of another child of God into his household of faith, and as we celebrate the union of soulmates into one family in the eyes of God.

The Christmas season lasts twelve days, from Christmas Day until Jan. 5, the day before the Epiphany. The season includes Christmas Day, the First Sunday after Christmas Day, the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and may include the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.

First Day – Partridge – God or Christ
Second Day – Turtle Doves – Old and New Testaments
Third Day – French Hens – Faith, Hope, and Charity
Fourth Day – Calling Birds – Four Gospels
Fifth Day – Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament, the Torah
Sixth Day – Gees a laying – Six days of Creation
Seventh Day – Swans a swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eighth Day – Maids a milking – Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
Ninth Day – Ladies dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galations 5:22)
Tenth Day – Lords a leaping – Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
Eleventh Day – Pipers piping – Eleven faithful disciples (Acts 1:13)
Twelfth Day – Drummers drumming – Twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed


Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost (Ordinary Time) – Green

Green is the color of revelatory experience, and so is the color of the feasts that celebrate God’s revelation to mankind: Epiphany and Pentecost. The manifestation of Christ to the peoples of the earth. The winter solstice was kept on Jan. 6 at some places during the first centuries of the Christian Era. In opposition to pagan festivals, Christians chose this day to celebrate the various manifestations, or “epiphanies,” of Jesus’ divinity. These showings of his divinity included his birth, the coming of the Magi, his baptism, and the Wedding at Cana where he miraculously changed water into wine. The day was called “The Feast of Lights.” The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, in the BCP. The Baptism of our Lord is celebrated on the First Sunday after the Epiphany.

Pentecost occurs after the Easter season and includes Trinity Sunday (return to white), which celebrates the revelation of the One Eternal God as revealed in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The season falls within the late Spring and Summer months, when we see the natural world grow green with leaves, vines, and crops. Therefore, green symbolizes our own spiritual growth in Christ, nurtured by the Church and the Gospels.

Lent – Purple

Purple is the color of humility, penance, and wisdom that comes from inward discernment. It is also the color of royalty. The extreme differences between the two (humility and royalty) express one of the great lessons of Lent: Christ as the servant-king and our endurance to be as such to the world as well. In penitential theology, purple is the color of inward reflection, which is one of the important things we are called to do each Lent in preparation for Easter.

Easter – White

The feast of Christ’s resurrection. According to Bede, the word derives from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre. Christians in England applied the word to the principal festival of the church year, both day and season. 1) Easter Day is the annual feast of the resurrection, the pascha or Christian Passover, and the eighth day of cosmic creation. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection on the Sunday or third day following his crucifixion is at the heart of Christian belief. Easter sets the experience of springtime next to the ancient stories of deliverance and the proclamation of the risen Christ. In the west, Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Easter always falls between Mar. 22 and Apr. 25 inclusive. Following Jewish custom, the feast begins at sunset on Easter Eve with the Great Vigil of Easter.

Holy Week and Pentecost Sunday – Red

Red is the color of excitement, energy, power, and all things intense and passionate. As such, red is the color of the Holy Spirit. It calls to mind the flames that descended upon the Church at the Day of Pentecost, and so is the color of the Feast of Pentecost. It is also used on Palm Sunday and during Holy Week, recalling the work of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His Passion. Red is the color of the Holy Order of Bishops, and so is used for all Episcopal visitations and offices (consecrations, ordinations, and confirmations), using a bright, primary red. Finally, red is used for the commemoration of all martyred saints. Red recalls the blood shed for the Faith and the Church.

Good Friday – Black

Black is generally used on only one day of the year: Good Friday. It is the color of extreme, deep sorrow. Good Friday is the only day of the year that such sorrow is expressed in the Church. Black is appropriate for the first of only two days of the year on which the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is forbidden. On Good Friday, the altar is usually kept stripped. However, if Communion is to be received from the reserved Sacrament (there is never the celebration of the Eucharist on either Good Friday or Holy Saturday), the altar may be adorned in hangings with black. Since Communion is never received – even from the Reserve – on Holy Saturday, the altar remains stripped with no hangings at all.

Adapted from “Liturgical Colors,” St. James Episcopal Church and “Calendar of the Church Year,” The Episcopal Church