What are the major Christian holidays and what are the stories behind them?
A brief article mentioning some of the major Christian holidays and what are the stories behind them.
Candlemas is observed around February 2. The holiday has been observed since the fourth century and today is practiced by mainly Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. It involves the presentation of the Christ Child and the purification of the Virgin Mary. This practice relates back to Mosaic law about women and after they have given birth. Also, on this day, beeswax candles are blessed and used throughout the year.
Ash Wednesday is observed forty days before Easter and is the first day of Lent. Roman Catholics follow this observation. It involves placing a cross of burned palm leaf ashes on the forehead by the priest. The season of Lent marks a period of fasting and repentance in preparation for the resurrection of Christ. A period of soul-searching and reflection, Lent is the 40 days when Christians take stock and prepare to rededicate themselves. This reflects Jesus’ retreat to the wilderness for 40 days.
Christians celebrate Palm Sunday the Sunday before Easter. It originates from the fourth century and is described in the Gospel of Matthew 21:8-9. Palm Sunday remembers the day that Christ arrived in Jerusalem with a cheering crowd on hand. The day marks the beginning of Holy Week with events happening daily until Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Clergy use Palm Sunday to help their congregation think on the strength of their commitment to the Christian faith.
Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday is the day that is commonly accepted that Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples. Most of the chronological events depict this meal as a Passover meal, which observed the Israelites escape from Egypt and death passing over their homes. A common observance by Christians on this day is the sharing of the Eucharist.
Good Friday is the day of crucifixion for Christ. Some congregations hold a three-hour service to mark the three hours that Christ hung from the cross. During the service, the seven utterances of Christ on the cross are represented and remembered as the Stations of the Cross. The day is spent as a fast day as much as possible and special prayer services with readings from the Gospel about the crucifixion.
Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is the most important holiday to Christians because it marks the reconciliation of God and his followers and allows resurrection for all. It marks the end of the Lent season. The first feasts were celebrated in the second century. It was the Council of Nicaea and Constantine that set the official date. There are many traditions associated with Easter that are believed to come from the pagan roots such as Easter eggs, rabbits and new clothing.
Catholics celebrate on August 15 the Assumption of Mary. This day marks when Mary died and was resurrected. Her body was transported to Jerusalem by a mysterious cloud. In her tomb, it was rejoined with her spirit by the angel Gabriel. Pop Pius XII declared the event dogma in 1950.
Catholics mark all Saint’s Day to honor Christian martyrs and all saints known and unknown. It was first observed in the fourth century. The day came about gradually as more martyrs suffered and observances were spread throughout the year. Pope Gregory IV changed it from May 13 to November 1 by consecrating a chapel in the Basilica of Saint Peter to all saints and fixed the date.
Christmas, celebrated on December 25, is a conglomeration of several festivals and occurrences. To most Christians it is the celebration of Christ’s birth. Most of the story comes from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. An angel appeared to some shepherds and told them of the birth. Other traditions that have been merged include Yule Logs, Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gift giving.