Keeping the Church Calendar

Our goal at is to reacquaint Christians not only with the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but with the Church Calendar more generally. That's because all time is sacred. The annual seasonal cycle of the Church Calendar keeps us immersed in the Gospel story, helping us to walk with Christ throughout the year.

Advent and Christmas are now past, but this site keeps going. You'll see two big changes going forward:

  • A redesigned and simplified home page, with a section called "What Time Is It?" that highlights the current church season, dates, themes, and how to learn more.
  • Throughout the year, the blog will feature posts on the different church seasons and special days, with resources aplenty: lectionary readings, prayers, short reflections, and selections of music, poetry, and art.

We want to know if this site is useful to you, and whether and how we can improve it. Don't hesitate to contact us with feedback.

Grace & peace,

Happy St. John's Day!

Today, December 27, marks the feastday of John, the beloved disciple. St. John did not die a martyr. According to tradition, he lived a long life and cared for Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her latter years.

St. John's feastday follows that of St. Stephen, and falls on the third day of Christmas.

St. John gave us a simple yet profound teaching: “Beloved, let us love one another” (1 John 4:7). It’s customary on this day to drink a cup of mulled cider or wine called wassail (the word literally means “be healthy”), and to thank God for the blessings of life and health.

John the Evangelist (Cimabue, circa 1301, Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

Prayer for the day

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Scripture readings (lectionary)

Psalm 92

Exodus 33:18-23

1 John 1:1-9

John 21:9-24


Enjoy a cup of "St. John's Wine" and drink a toast to family and friends. The easiest way to make St. John's Wine, or wassail, is to buy a bottle of red wine (merlot works well) and a packet of mulling spices. For each quart of wine, add 2 tablespoons of spices to a cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth in the wine and simmer in a saucepan for about 20 minutes. Serve the wine hot, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and orange slice. It's a wonderfully warm drink for a cold winter's night.

Happy St. Stephen's Day!

Merry Christmas, and Happy St. Stephen's Day!

Christmas is not a single day, but a 12-day feast that runs from December 25 to January 5, culminating with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. There are several feastdays during this joyous season of Christmastide. Today, December 26, is one of them: the feastday of St. Stephen. 

The story of Stephen is found in Acts 6-7. He was the first deacon, one of seven leaders chosen to care for the poor in the early Jerusalem church. He was also the first Christian martyr. It’s customary on this day to serve others, especially those who may be overlooked or neglected, just as St. Stephen did. Mark this day by giving to the needy, volunteering with your church or local charity, and showing hospitality to neighbors.

Stephen and the Dispute before Sanhedrin (Angelico, circa 1447, Vanderbilt Div. Lib.)

Prayer for the day

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (Book of Common  Prayer)

Scripture readings (lectionary)

Psalm 31:1-5

Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15

Matthew 23:34-39

Acts 6:8—7:2, 7:51-60

Musical selection

The best known carol that mentions St. Stephen's Day is "Good King Wenceslas," which begins: "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen." The last lines are:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing

These words recall Christ's teaching that "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40). They are words that Stephen himself lived. One of my favorite renditions of this song is by the Irish Rovers:

Other resources

  • "St. Stephen" (from Catholic Encyclopedia), including this line: "Little did all the people present, casting stones upon him, realize that the blood they shed was the first seed of a harvest that was to cover the world." 

The Great "O Antiphons" of Advent

Among the richest treasures of Advent are the Great "O Antiphons." The Antiphons are a series of seven ancient verses that use prophecy and biblical imagery to express the ever-present longing for Christ. They're beautiful, theologically deep poetry, and they serve as the “heralds of Christmas," reminding us that the fast of Advent is almost over and the feast of Christmas is almost here.

A different Antiphon is sung or chanted on each of the seven nights leading up to Christmas, beginning today, December 17.

The Great O Antiphons

December 17

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
Reaching from one end to the other mightily,
And sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

December 18

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
Who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
And gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

December 19

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
Before you kings will shut their mouths,
To you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

December 20

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel;
You open and no one can shut;
You shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
hose who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 21

O Morning Star,
Splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death.

December 22

O King of the nations, and their desire,
The cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
Which you fashioned from clay.

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,
The hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Anglican men's religious order, has a series of short videos on the Antiphons, all available at our YouTube page. Each video features one of the Antiphons sung in English plainchant, followed by brief commentary.


EXPLORING The ANTIPHONS' theological riches 

The Antiphons may be ancient, but they speak across the ages. Preceded by the poetic “O” to express yearning and wonder, each prays for Christ to come and adds a different dimension to that prayer: teach, redeem, deliver, lead, enlighten, and save. (The prayer “Come and save” appears twice, surely because it is the deepest cry of our hearts.)

Consider incorporating the Antiphons into your Advent practices, for example by reciting them as nightly prayers over the next week. To enrich your experience of the Antiphons, here are a other few things worth noting.

Origin: The Antiphons are old. They date at least to the 8th century, and probably earlier. If you think they sound familiar, you’re right -- the Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is actually a synthesis of the Antiphons.

The Gospel story: The story of the Gospel unfolds progressively in the Antiphons. December 17 tells of creation. December 18 recounts God’s giving of the Law to Israel. On December 19, we remember that out of Israel, from the line of Jesse, came Jesus, the promised Messiah. December 20 and 21 are allusions to Christ’s death and resurrection. December 22 and 23 foreshadow the Last Days when Christ, the hope of nations, will come again to save.

“Tomorrow I will be there”: Each Antiphon addresses Christ by a different title, a name or attribute by which He is known in Scripture. In the original Latin, the first letters of these titles form an acrostic that, spelled backwards, reads “Ero cras,” which means “Tomorrow I will be there.” 

More Resources

Watch for the Light: an Advent devotional for adults

Watch for the Light: an Advent devotional for adults

An anthology from well-known Christian writers and thinkers, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas will deepen your experience of these sacred seasons.

Advent 101: A beginner's guide to the seasons

If you didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition (Episcopalian/Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.), the Advent season may be unfamiliar territory to you. Maybe you want to learn more about Advent, Christmas (all twelve days of it!), and even the Church Calendar more generally, but you don't know where or how to start. You're in the right place. Here's our Advent 101, a beginner's guide to the seasons:

Advent and Christmas are distinct seasons.

Advent, which means "arriving," consists of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The central theme of Advent is expectation. It's a season when Christians both prepare their hearts to celebrate Christ's first coming at Christmas two thousand years ago and look forward to Christ's second coming at the end of time.

The Christmas season runs for twelve days from December 25 to January 5. The central theme of Christmas is joyous celebration as we commemorate the birth of Christ our Savior.

Advent traditions impart a preparatory rhythm to the season.  

During the Advent season, let your outward practices reflect and shape the inner preparation of your hearts. The most basic Advent tradition is lighting the candles of an Advent wreath as the season progresses. With each week of Advent, a new candle is lit, and the wreath becomes a growing circle of light, a beautiful symbol of our hope in Christ.

Other practices, like an Advent calendar and decorating the home for Christmas, are wonderful ways to experience the rhythms of Advent. Kids love these traditions, too! Our own kids look forward to them every year.

Christmastime is a joyous festival.

While Advent is a season of expectation, Christmas is a season of celebration. Christmas is less rhythm and more revelry. Gather with friends and family, throw a party or two, share meals, give gifts, sing carols, play games. It’s hard to go wrong at Christmastime. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

And the celebration doesn't end on December 25. The season of Christmas lasts for twelve days. Find ways to "keep the party going" through fun-filled traditions, feastdays, and music.

Advent and Christmas are seasons of the Church Calendar.

The Church Calendar or Christian Year is an annual cycle of seasons that correspond to key events in the life of Christ. Through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost, Christians for centuries have commemorated Christ's birth, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and second coming.

The Calendar is a way of keeping and seeing time differently. It's a way of centering our time and activities around Christ. Advent is always the beginning of a new Christian Year. Learn more about the Church Calendar here.

So how do I get started?™ was designed to help Christians get started with Advent, Christmas, and the Church Calendar. And if you've already started, we hope the site helps you go deeper. We've designed two resources to bless you in your journey through the seasons:

  • Seasonal calendar: Our seasonal calendar has the key dates for the Advent and Christmas seasons, including the special feastdays to enrich your journey. Print it off and hang it on your fridge!
  • Family Guide to the Seasons: The Family Guide is a short devotional resource, chronologically arranged, with easy reference to the practices, prayers, Scripture readings, and even musical selections for the days of the seasons. Pull up the web version on your phone or tablet. We also designed a booklet version that can be printed double-sided and folded and stapled down the middle.

Stay tuned!

As Advent approaches and throughout the seasons, follow us here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more ideas, from crafts to book reviews, to help make the holidays more meaningful and more Christ-centered.

The Deeper Joy of Christmas

Amidst the cheery carols and tame Nativity scenes, it’s easy to forget how earth-shattering Christmas is. To grasp the deeper joy of this season, we need to remember how Christmas arrived two thousand years ago — amidst doubt and fear, scandal and pain, oppression and sorrow.

When the announcement came to an unmarried young woman that she would bear God’s Son, the timing couldn’t be worse. Her pregnancy was scandalous. And the birth would not go as planned. Forced by government decree to an overcrowded city, away from home and family, she and her fiancé couldn’t even find a proper room. (Didn’t he say he had relatives here?)  “Favored one,” the angel had called her, but here she was, relegated to a cattle shed. “Your son will be great,” was the promise — so empty-sounding now as she lay her fragile, fussy baby in a feeding trough. Surely the one who would deliver Israel wasn’t supposed to arrive this way.

The announcement came like a thunderbolt to nearby shepherds. As they faithfully kept the night watch, a terrifying spectacle pierced the darkness: a flash of light, an angel with a strange message, and suddenly a whole army spread across the heavens. As quickly as they had come, they were gone. The awestruck shepherds must have looked at each other in wonder, even confusion. Why had this message been entrusted to them? Uneducated men. Roughnecks. Their faces leathered by years. The scent of the fields always about them. By every social measure, they were nobodies. Who would believe their story? Surely the good news of God had better witnesses than these.

The Birth of Jesus With Shepherds, Jesus Mafa (image credit)

For God-fearing foreigners, the announcement came dimly and mysteriously. Philosophers and proto-scientists, the Magi had searched the stars for centuries, carefully recording their movements, watching for the sign of a Promised One. When it finally appeared, did their long waiting give way to doubt? This was no angelic broadcast from the heavens. It was a cryptic message written in dark, distant skies. And a journey to Israel would be long and dangerous. Would their neighbors scoff? What would their professional colleagues say? Surely they weren’t expected to risk everything — fortunes, reputations, their very lives — for this new king.

For some Bethlehem families, there was no announcement. Only terrified screams, smashed doors, wild-eyed soldiers, the glint of steel — and precious, innocent lives snuffed out. How do you comfort mothers and fathers who have lost children? What is God’s answer to tyranny, to terrorism, to evil? Surely these grieving families felt the suffocating grip of life’s most painful questions. If there is a God, why do the innocent suffer? If Christ indeed has come, then where is justice?

This was the first Christmas. The arrival of Jesus turned the world upside down. Does it still have that effect today?

The Morning Star (image credit)

We journey through the darkness of Advent so we can experience the deeper joy of Christmas. Not fleeting joy. Not a joy that ebbs with season and flows with circumstance. But joy rooted in faith — faith that wrestles with God and refuses to let go. Joy rooted in hope, in holding fast to God’s promises even when — especially when — they seem so distant, so painful, so impossible. 

It’s the joy of Mary receiving an impossible message and yet crying out in song, “In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior” (Luke 1:47).

It’s the joy of shepherds, still quaking with fear, who go searching for Jesus and when they find him, can’t help but tell everyone they know (Luke 2:15-20).

It’s the joy of the Magi who, after journeying through long dark nights, find themselves at the doorstep of Jesus suddenly and inexplicably “filled with joy” (Matthew 2:10).

It is joy that rises out of ache and ashes, knowing that God hears the cries of those who suffer, that He will establish justice, that death will not have the last word because God-in-flesh, the babe born that night, came Himself to die and be raised again to conquer death itself (Psalm 10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26).

This is what it means to celebrate Christmas. Not to escape the darkness of the world, but to look to the Light that came amidst that darkness. “The light shines in the darkness,” John’s Gospel proclaims, “and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light” (John 1:5). As Jesus would later tell his followers, “In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

The joy of Christmas is the joy of Christ — the realization that Christ has come, that God is with us. So rejoice! Take heart! Be of good cheer! It’s good news, wonderful, joyous news! Our Savior is born today in David’s city. And He has conquered the world.

From Holidays to Holy Days

They seem to come earlier, faster, and busier every year.

For most Americans, the holidays kick off with Thanksgiving in late November, ramp up for Christmas, and culminate with new year’s celebrations on January 1.

Christmas dominates this season, fueled by the insatiable economics of consumption. Holiday ad blitzes. Black Friday deals. Overcrowded malls.

There are the traditions to keep, too. The tree needs putting up. The house needs decorating. There are parties to throw, treats to bake, carols to practice. Add in the stresses of family, especially extended family, and it’s no wonder many feel overwhelmed at this time of year.  

As Christians, we aren’t immune to the rampant commercialism and busied distractions of the season. But Christmas should hold much deeper meaning for us. We celebrate the coming of a Savior and the promise that He will someday return, redeem His people, and repair the brokenness of our world.

For Christians the holidays are truly holy days. Yet how quickly we lose sight of this. How easily we are drawn away by the secular glitz and glamour of the season.

It shouldn't be this way.

The Church Calendar

For hundreds of years, Christians have marked time intentionally — not by whatever happens to be going on around them, but by centering their calendar on Christ. Through time, the church has observed an annual cycle called the Church Calendar or Christian Year. The seasons of the Calendar correspond to key events in the life of Christ: His birth, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. (Learn more at our Church Calendar page.) 

The Church Calendar was developed as a way to aid the spiritual formation of believers, imparting a sacred rhythm to our time and activities. As the seasons of the Christian Year orient our hearts toward Christ, we're reminded that we live in what Dallas Willard called a "God-bathed world." The whole earth is full of God's glory. Even our Calendar is holy.

We often call the late-November-to-early-January time period simply “the holidays.” But the church for centuries has observed two distinct holy seasons during this time: Advent and Christmas.

York Minster with Advent wreath (image credit)

Advent and Christmas

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues through Christmas Eve. Christmas, of course, begins on December 25, but it doesn't end there. The period called Christmastide continues for twelve days and ends on January 5. It gives way to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which celebrates the Magi’s visit to the Christ child.

Advent is a season of preparation, Christmas is a season of celebration.

Advent is a time of expectancy, hope, and repentance, a season when we look ahead to Christ’s Second Coming even as we prepare to celebrate His birth two thousand years ago.

Christmas is a time of merriment and joy, when we give gifts, play games, sing carols, eat together, and rejoice that our Redeemer has come and will come again.  

Each of these seasons is marked in its own way, and each has its own set of practices. Some of the traditions are serious, even somber. Some are just plain fun. All are designed to imbue our time and activity with sacred meaning, to remind us of the deeper significance of the seasons and point us to Christ.  

Advent is a season of preparation,
Christmas is a season of celebration.

Catholics and mainline Protestants are familiar with Advent and Christmas and the traditions around them. But for many evangelicals, Advent may be unfamiliar territory, and the “twelve days of Christmas” are something they’ve heard about only in a song. 

At, we invite all Christians, whatever your denominational background, to rediscover these holy seasons.

We designed this site especially for those Christians new to observing Advent and Christmas. We hope it's a resource — a field guide of sorts — to help you, your family, and your church journey through these seasons with Christ-centered expectancy and joy, as Christians have done through the centuries.