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Taylor: Shaking up the Christian calendar

A column by Jim Taylor
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(File photo)

The Christian year doesn’t fit any other calendar. The school year, for example, starts in September – at least in the northern hemisphere. The calendar year starts January 1 – unless you live in some of Slavic countries, where it still starts January 1, but it’s a different January 1.

The Christian year, however, starts the first Sunday of Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Christmas has a fixed date. It occurs every December 25 since the year 336, when Emperor Constantine of Rome made that rule.

But since Christmas roams through the week, so does the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

I can loosely describe Advent as the four weeks when we prepare for Christmas. No, not by shopping. By looking forward to the birth of the baby Jesus, in Bethlehem.

In the church calendar, the “season” of Christmas lasts two whole weeks.

Then it shifts into Epiphany, which means – again, very loosely – an unveiling, a discovery that takes us by surprise. Traditionally, it meant the revealing of Jesus as the Messiah for all nations. As a child, to the visiting “wise men” from eastern nations, and maybe eastern religions. As an adult, culminating in his “transfiguration” on a hilltop.

And then we shift into Lent – which originally meant “length – the seven-week period before spring brought new life, where we “did without” things like fresh meat because it had rotted over the winter anyway.

And then the Season of Easter, about the same length as Lent, but supposedly joyous and exuberant and filled with Hallelujahs.

The season of Easter ends after seven weeks of celebration, with another celebration, the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’s followers. It’s actually only 49 days after Easter, but lacking the concept of zero, they counted Easter as Day One, to get 50 days. Hence, “pente-cost.”

And then commence six months of what used to lumped together as “ordinary” Sundays, right through to the first Sunday of Advent again.

Not that it’s all humdrum routine. During those “ordinary” times, we celebrate Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Canada Day (Independence Day in the U.S.), Labour Day, Remembrance Day, and two Thanksgiving Days, depending on whether you live north or south of the 49th Parallel.

But they’re sort of superimposed on the church calendar. Which, as I said earlier, it doesn’t match any conventional calendar.

And it has stayed unchanged for some 17 centuries.

But recently, there actually have been some changes.

Very recently, in fact. Just 34 years ago, in 1987, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed September 1 a day of prayer for the environment.

In 2000, a Lutheran congregation in Australia developed a four-week celebration of creation. The idea spread. Eventually, the Vatican picked up the practice and the World Council of Churches promoted a new liturgical season.

So, now, from September 1 to October 4 – just before Canadian Thanksgiving – Christians around the world join in the Season of Creation.

About time, I say. For far too long, Christian churches have ignored the environment we live in. Indeed, we have used the words in Genesis as excuses to “multiply” and to “subdue the earth.”

The Season of Creation challenges us to recognize that we are part of this earth, not separate from it.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: rewrite@shaw.ca

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