Key Christian festivals

Christmas

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. The festival of Christmas does not fall on Jesus' actual birthday, and different denominations celebrate it on different dates. Protestant and Catholic Christians celebrate Christmas on 25 December, while Orthodox Christians celebrate it on 6 January.

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Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem and laid him in a manger. There, according to the gospels narratives, he was visited by kings and shepherds who had heard about his birth.

In the UK, Christmas is celebrated in both a religious and a secular way. There are church services with carols on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as Christians thank God for his gift of Jesus. Christmas is a national holiday and many Christians, as well as many non-religious people and people of other faiths, have parties with food and gifts.

Christian churches often run events for those in need over the Christmas period, as the idea of Christmas is to spread love and peace. For example, a church might provide a space to give food and temporary shelter to people in need.

Easter

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Easter is the most important celebration for Christians as it celebrates Jesus’ victory over death.

Easter begins with Lent, which is the name given to a period of 40 days leading up to the day of resurrection.

The week leading up to the resurrection is known as Holy Week and there are special services held in Christian churches across the week:

  • Palm Sunday - On this day, the four gospels state that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The people were overjoyed to see him, and they showed their love for him by waving palm branches as he passed by. Palm crosses are given out during Christian services as a symbol of this event.
  • Maundy Thursday - On this day, Jesus hosted the Last Supper, which was followed by his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. This day marks the beginning of a time of sadness and reflection for Christians.
  • Good Friday - Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Traditionally, some Christians commemorated this with a day of fasting or by ending the Lent fast and eating hot cross buns. Today, many churches hold services during the afternoon at a similar time to when Jesus died (3pm). Some Catholics may hold a procession called the Stations of the Cross, which re-enacts the final journey of Jesus when he carried his cross to his crucifixion. There is a series of 14 stops, all of which remind Catholics of the events that happened during Jesus’ final day.
  • Easter Sunday - Jesus’ resurrection. Some churches hold a vigil on the Saturday evening before a service on the Sunday. For Christians, Easter Sunday is a day of joy to celebrate what God has done for humanity. Cards are swapped and in the UK, chocolate Easter eggs are given and eaten by Christians. The eggs symbolise new life and, for some Christians, they remind people of the shape of the boulder that rolled away from the entrance of Jesus' tomb. People of other faiths and those who do not hold religious beliefs may also enjoy exchanging chocolate eggs because they are freely available in shops.