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Of Calendars, Holidays, and Rhythms

As we approach Labor Day weekend, I have been thinking about calendars, life patterns, and rhythms. While Labor Day originally was intended as a holiday to remember and celebrate the contributions of American workers, it has come to be known more for marking the end of summer. Similarly, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. Life seems to have a different pattern between Memorial Day and Labor Day - businesses might have different hours (or seasonal business may only be open during these times), churches often adjust their ministries and patterns during this time, and many people travel or do family things. There are other holidays and key moments on our calendars that we remember and pattern our lives around (e.g. Thanksgiving), but in many ways, life in America is built around this schedule of a season from Memorial Day to Labor Day - really a school year schedule that was developed in part because of farming patterns. Our calendar shapes the rhythms of our lives.

Old Testament Calendar

When the people of Israel left slavery in Egypt, God gave them a calendar that would define their lives and rhythms. There was the weekly rhythm of the Sabbath as a day of rest (which was different from other cultures of the time), but there were also annual rhythms, certain days they would celebrate to remember what God had done for them and how they were to live in light of that. Passover remembered the people’s escape from Egypt by God’s mighty hand and marked the beginning of the liturgical year for the people. Connected with Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as God had called the people out of Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. The Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) remembers how the people spent time in temporary dwellings in the desert on their way to the Promised Land and how God protected them in this period. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the civil year for the people of Israel, but is in the seventh month of the liturgical calendar; his difference in the start of the year has often been viewed as remembering when Adam and Eve were created (Rosh Hashanah) and the people of Israel left Egypt to be their own nation (Passover). Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is a day that reflects on atonement and how one can be made right with God. The Feast of Weeks celebrates the wheat harvest in Israel but also was associated with God giving His Law to Moses. Key holidays not given in the Law by Moses,but later developed included Purim, as God preserved the people during the time of Esther, and Hanukkah, as God restored the temple under the leadership of the Maccabees. There were also other feasts and festivals, such as the New Moon or the Sabbath Year (as well as the Year of Jubilee). Life in Israel (and thus for Jesus) was structured around God’s work in the life of His people.

The Christian Liturgical Year and Its Meaning

The early Christian church similarly set a calendar that reminds us of God’s work, this time in the person of Jesus. The holidays we are likely most familiar with are Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, which remember Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. The reason we worship on Sundays is because this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (and the early church began to gather on this day). The seasons of Advent and Lent prepare for Christmas and Easter, respectively. Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday are part of holy week, remembering Christ coming into Jerusalem and his Last Supper. Other key days in the Christian calendar include Epiphany (January 6, when the wise men came to visit Jesus - reminding us that Jesus came for all the nations), Ascension Day (when Christ returned to heaven) and Pentecost (when Christ sent the Spirit). Time in between holidays is often viewed as a season, when we continue to remember the event. For example, Christmastide is the time between Christmas and Epiphany (12 days in case you were wondering - someone should write a song about that!), and the time between Easter and Pentecost is Eastertide (40 days to continue reflecting on Jesus’s death and resurrection). The time between Pentecost and the start of Advent is often called “Ordinary Time,” as it is a season in which the Sundays are counted (by ordinal numbers) and is often a season in which the church has focused on Jesus’s ministry and teaching (since the other holidays focus on other key moments in his life) as well as how we can grow in our everyday lives. As with other things, one could go into more detail on these days, and there are other holidays that some would highlight and celebrate, but these are the most common and traditional Christmas holidays.  

Applying It to Our Lives

I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t celebrate and participate in the holidays of a country (though I am not sure we need to celebrate every Hallmark holiday or “National ______ Day” that we often hear about…..who decides those things anyway?), and I am not saying that Christians or churches are obligated to do something special on these Christian holidays, as nothing in the New Testament that demands a Christian or a church to remember all these holidays.  (In fact, Paul forbids demanding celebrations of particular days in Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5). People and churches can go overboard with festivals and holidays to the point they lose their meaning or become a distraction, but I do wonder if remembering these days and rhythms might help us remember that our lives are structured around Jesus’s work for us.

I didn’t grow up thinking much about the Christian calendar except for Easter and Christmas, but as I have explored it more, it has helped me think more about the entirety of Jesus’s work and how my life is defined by his time (how I am a stranger in this world, living here in this land but being a citizen of heaven). Something else I find remarkable about the Christian calendar is that there is time to celebrate key things that Jesus did, but also time to prepare and reflect (Advent is followed by Christmastide and Lent by Eastertide), which stands in contrast to the way that we often celebrate a holiday and then move on; the Christian calendar says to linger on the truth because it changes life. Even the season “Ordinary Time” from Pentecost to Advent (the longest and possibly the dullest season) is a way to remember  our lives are lived under the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit and this connects to my everyday life.

During this time around Labor Day, we are reminded how our calendar influences our patterns of life. How can the Christian calendar speak more into your life?

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