Our church year and it's colors & what they mean

The Lutheran Church breaks up the year into what we call "seasons" and our church year is a little off of our regular calendar as you will see in the explanation of our seasons and colors.    

In the Christian tradition colors are used for different items being worn by the people leading worship (sometimes called vestments; such as the pastor's stole) and the cloths (called paraments) that go on parts of our worship space (such as the altar, pulpit, and lectern).  The colors are there to help call attention to the nature of the season or festival being celebrated.

Our church year begins four Sundays before Christmas with the season of Advent.  This season is all about hopeful waiting - we wait for Christ's birth and Christ to return.  In most churches the color used in Advent is blue.  This color was chosen because it represents hope.  In some congregations you may see them use purple as the color of Advent.  Purple represents the royalty of the coming King.  This meaning of purple is different than in Lent.  

Following the season of Advent is the season of Christmas.  The season of Christmas last for 12 days, from December 25 until January 5th.  This is the season of the Celebration of Christ's birth.  The color used during Christmas is white.  White represents the purity of Christ and joy and light we find in Him.  

Following Christmas we have a day in the church calendar dedicated to "The Epiphany of our Lord."  The word epiphany means "a shining forth" or "revelation."  This day is celebrated on January 6 and it is often the day we recognize the coming of the Wise Men, or Magi, before the Lord but more importantly the Epiphany of our Lord is when we celebrate the many ways - through prayer, miracles, and preaching - Jesus made Himself known to us as God made flesh.  The color for this day is also white to represent much the same ideas of Christmas, joy and light found in Christ. 

The Baptism of Jesus is a day that celebrates the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.  This is celebrated the first Sunday after the end of the Christmas season.  Again, the color of the day is white for similar reasons to Christmas and The Epiphany of our Lord.  

We then enter into the season after Epiphany.  This is what we refer to as the season of light and helps us to remember how we can lead others to Christ.  This season can last anywhere from 4-9 Sundays and goes from January 6 (the day of Epiphany) until Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).  The color of the season is green to reflect our life and growth in Christ. 

The next day that we recognize is Ash Wednesday.  The date of Ash Wednesday is variable as it depends on what date Easter falls on.  This date is set 46 days (40 days not counting Sundays) before Easter which makes  Ash Wednesday the first day of the season of Lent.  It can fall as early at February 4 (February 5 in Leap years) and as late as March 10.  On this day an ash cross is placed on the forehead of the believer as a sign of repentance (the turning around/away from sin).  Often the ashes are made from the palms used the previous year during Palm Sunday.  The color of Ash Wednesday is preferably black as symbolic of the ashes to which we will return but as some congregations do not own black paraments, the other acceptable color for the day is purple - a color of repentance.  

The next season, which begins with Ash Wednesday, is Lent.  This is a 46 day (40 day not counting Sundays) season during which we reflect on the upcoming crucifixion of Christ and we prepare ourselves through prayer, meditation, and self-denial.  The forty days of Lent are meant to reflect the time that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan before beginning His public ministry.  The color for Lent is purple to represent repentance.  

Palm/Passion Sunday is the Sunday before Easter during which we remember Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem followed quickly by the crowds cheers turning to calls for his crucifixion.  On this day both accounts - of his entry and his crucifixion - are read in the worship service.  This day begins Holy Week.  The color of the day is scarlet to represent the color of blood or purple, if the congregation does not own scarlet paraments.  

The next day of Holy Week is Maundy Thursday.  This is the day that we remember Jesus washing the feet of His disciples and sharing in the Holy Meal (Eucharist) with them before He is taken away to be crucified.  The service concludes with the stripping of the altar and without a benediction (closing of the service) because it is continued on Good Friday).  The color of the day is scarlet or white.  

We then have Good Friday.  This is the day when we hear the story of the crucifixion.  The service concludes in silence to be continued either during the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday.  Due to the stripping of the altar there is usually no color associated with Good Friday - but sometimes black is acknowledged/used.  

The Vigil of Easter is on Saturday of Holy Week.  This is a time that is kept by awaiting the Easter morning when Christ can be proclaimed risen from the grave.  This is usually a longer service and there are many readings throughout of God's acts of salvation from throughout the Bible.  The color of the day is white as the color of joy!

We then enter into the season of Easter.  The date of Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  The season of Easter lasts for 50 days after the day of Easter.  This is the day that we joyfully celebrate Jesus' victory over death and the joy of the empty tomb.  This is the one day of the church year gold can be used as the color of the day signifying this as the glorious day of the church year.  If a congregation does not have gold paraments white can be used instead.  The Sundays following Easter are white to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.

Following the end of Easter we have the Day of Pentecost.  The Day of Pentecost is when we remember the Holy Spirit, the form of tongues of fire, descending on the followers of Christ.  The color of the day is red to symbolize and remember the tongues of fire.  This red is to be different than the scarlet used during Holy Week to contrast the celebration of this day to the repentant nature of Holy Week.

The day of the Holy Trinity is a day where we let ourselves stand in awe of the mystery of our three-in-one God (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The color of the day is white to represent the mystery of the day.  

The rest of our church year is the season after Pentecost.  This is our longest season, which begins with the day of Pentecost and ends with Christ the King Sunday.  This season really focuses on the work of the Church in the world, Jesus' message to us, and our growth in Christ.  The color of the season is green to remind us of that growth and life.

Reformation Day is October 31st every year.  This is only celebrated in the Lutheran church and is the day we remember the work of Martin Luther and all the Reformers and their contributions to the faith.  The color of the day is red reminding us of the power of the Holy Spirit coming among God's people - much as in the Day of Pentecost.  

The last day of our church year is Christ the King Sunday in which we celebrate the true royalty of Christ and proclaim Him king of all.  The color of the day is white for joy and celebration. 

Other lesser festivals throughout the year are celebrated and most often their color is white.  The exception to this is when we remember the life of a martyr, in which case the color of the day is red.