Church History for Kids: What is the Church Calendar?

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We mark the passing of time in many different ways: by naming the seasons (summer, fall, winter, spring), or by noting the days and months of the year, or by celebrating specific anniversaries. But did you know that the Church also has its own calendar, and has for thousands of years? It does! 

The Church calendar observes seven distinct seasons in church life: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, and Ordinary Time. Different liturgical traditions observe slightly different times, but these seven are the primary seasons in the Church year. 

But where did the Church calendar come from, what does it mean, and why should you teach your kids about it? Read on to learn more! 

WHO USES THE CHURCH CALENDAR?

Well, all Christians use it to celebrate certain holidays (like Christmas and Easter), but some churches (usually those who are more liturgical) use the calendar to guide their services every week. The Book of Common Prayer, a famous ancient prayer book, contains daily prayer and Scripture reading (as well as Scripture guides for Sunday worship) based around the Church calendar. 

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Big Word: LITURGICAL

The liturgy is the order of worship (the things that happen and the order they happen in) in a church service. When a church is more liturgical, it means they have a specific order of worship and elements that they traditionally use. 

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BUT THE CHURCH CALENDAR ISN’T IN THE BIBLE, IS IT?

Not specifically, but the history of seasons of fasting and feasting are found all throughout the Old Testament. The Jewish people build their lives around feasts (which often lasted multiple days) all throughout the year. Jesus celebrated the Jewish feasts, like Passover. So while the Christian Church calendar isn’t in the Bible, the framework for it certainly is. 

WHAT ARE THE SEASONS OF THE CHURCH CALENDAR?

ADVENT

Advent is a period of time before Christmas that includes the 4 Sundays before Christmas. It usually starts in late November. Many Christians celebrate Advent and the season of waiting for Jesus’s birth through lighting Advent wreaths or other traditions. Here are some ideas for celebrating Advent with your family

CHRISTMASTIDE

You thought Christmas was just ONE day? Actually, it’s TWELVE! Well, at least it is according to the church calendar. Christmastide is the twelve days between Christmas (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6), which is traditionally celebrated as the day the wise men visited Jesus. Check out this post to learn more about Christmastide and Epiphany.

EPIPHANY

The season of Epiphany begins on January 6 and extends until the beginning of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday. During Epiphany, it is traditional to celebrate the many ways Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. 

LENT

Lent is the 40 days before Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday. Lent is traditionally a season of repentance, fasting, and prayer that helps us acknowledge our need for Jesus and His work on the Cross on our behalf. Many Christians fast during the Lenten season, and others add a spiritual discipline (such as prayer or Scripture reading) into their daily life to help prepare their hearts for Resurrection Sunday. Here are some more resources for helping your kids understand Lent.

EASTER 

Similar to Christmas, Easter isn’t just one day. Resurrection Sunday (what we usually call Easter) is the first day of Eastertide, which lasts for 50 days! The Church calendar encourages remembering the 40 days Jesus was back on earth between His resurrection and ascension (when He went up into heaven) and the ten days between Jesus’s ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Check out this post to learn more about Pentecost.

ORDINARY TIME

The longest stretch of the Church calendar, Ordinary Time lasts from Pentecost to the beginning of Advent, approximately five months. 

WHY DOES THE CHURCH CALENDAR MATTER?

In the same way that other seasons (like summer, fall, winter, and spring) contain special days and events that we look forward to all year, the Church calendar and its seasons offer us the same anticipation and celebration. Summer is marked by Memorial Day, Independence Day, and summer vacations. Fall brings Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin decorating. Kids understand the anticipation and joy of yearly celebrations, each season taking on a distinct feel and atmosphere.

We can celebrate the church calendar the same way! Lent’s somber tone can lead us into daily reflection and discussion about Jesus’s sacrifice for us. Advent can help us anticipate the joy, hope, light, and life Jesus brought into the world! Using some of the ideas in the linked posts above, maybe this is the year you can start your own family and church traditions around the Church calendar! 

Maybe you’ve never really thought about teaching Church History to your kids before, but we can learn so much about how to be the Church today by learning about how the Church used to be. Both when the church first started and as it grew and changed throughout history, in all different times and places. When we study church history, there are so many powerful stories of believers who have done amazing things for the kingdom of God that our kids will be inspired to do great things for the kingdom of God in their own lives. 

Check out the rest of the posts in our series Church History for Kids for more topics and stories. 

Next: Church History for Kids: What are the Sacraments? (coming soon)

For great videos about church history for kids, check out The Pirate’s Guide to Church History or The Torchlighters on Minno!

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