Major Religious Festivals & Public Holidays
last update: 31 July 2020
Western Christian Festivals and Holy Days
Advent Sunday is the start of the Christian year, and is the fourth Sunday before Christmas (so between 27 November and 3 December). Advent means 'coming' and the Advent season prepares for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Advent is often associated with the colour violet for the first candle and for vestments, etc.
Christmas Day is on the 25 December and is when Western Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. The nativity is described in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The date of the 25 December was set by Pope Julius I (?-352 AD).
The 26 December is called Saint Stephen's Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr Saint Stephen (ca. 5-37 AD).
Epiphany, meaning 'to show or manifest', is on 6 January and marks the end of the '12 days of Christmas'. It marks the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus, and is also celebrated by the visit of the Magi bring three gifts.
7 January is celebrated as the birth of Jesus for Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is the day of the ritual burning of the previous year's Holy Week palms. It is also called 'Pancake Day', because pancakes were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before fasting over Lent (when you are supposed to eat only simple foods). Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras (French for 'fat Tuesday') due to the practice of eating rich, fatty foods before the fasting season starts on Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.
Lent in the Western Churches starts on 'Ash Wednesday', the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day. This is 40 days before Easter Day, not including Sundays (or exactly a total of 46 days before Easter Sunday).
Eastern Churches include the Sunday and start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter, but end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter.
Mothering Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Lent. Once it meant to visit a persons' 'mother' church, and honour mothers of children. In the UK it's increasingly being called Mother's Day, but they retain the same date. The US version, invented in the 20th C, is not directly related to the religious festival. Many, many countries now celebrate Mother's Day on the 2nd Sunday in May, or on the Spring equinox (21 March), or on International Women's Day (8 March).
Holy Week is the week immediately before Easter.
Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before Easter, and commemorates Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Good Friday (good meant pious or holy) commemorates the death of Jesus by crucifixion and Calvary (Golgotha), and is called 'good' to represent the giving of Jesus's life to heal the world. Coincides with the Jewish Passover. It is defined as the preceding Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. The date of Easter changes every year, but always occurs between 22 March and 25 April (according to the Gregorian calendar, the one used by most of the world). Easter is always on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first full Moon occurring after the vernal equinox (which signals spring). The vernal equinox can occur any time between 19 March and 21 March, and is when there is almost an equal amount of daylight and night across most latitudes on Earth. What this means is that the Earth's equator passes through the centre of the Sun, or the visible Sun is directly above the equator. This also means that the Sun rises due East and sets due West. The Paschal Full Moon is defined as the 14th day of the lunar month.
Ascension Day marks the ascension of Jesus to heaven and is celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday (it always falls on a Thursday.
Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, and falls on the Sunday 50 days after Easter Sunday. It is also often called Whitsun or Whit Sunday. Whit Monday (Pentecost Monday) is the day after Pentecost.
All Saints' Day is the 1 November and gives thanks to all known and unknown saints.
This calendar of religious festivals and holy days of the Orthodox Church and can follow either a 'old' Julian Calendar or the 'new' Revised Julian Calendar. For those who follow the Revised Julian Calendar the dates correspond exactly to the same dates on the Gregorian Calendar. For those who follow the 'old' Julian Calendar there is a 13 day difference, e.g. Christmas Day (25 December) falls on the 7 January, i.e. following the Gregorian Calendar you are on the 7 January, but someone following the 'old' Julian Calendar would consider that day the 25 December, and would be celebrating Christmas Day.
The Orthodox liturgical year begins on 1 September, and the dates below correspond to the Gregorian Calendar, i.e. 13 days different from the 'old' Julian Calendar.
Firstly, below the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church:-
The Nativity of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) - 21 September
The Elevation of the Holy Cross - 27 September (is a strict fast day and celebrated the discover of the Holy Cross in 325 AD)
The Presentation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) - 4 December (celebrates the presentation of Mary as a child to the Temple in Jerusalem and her consecration to God)
The Nativity of the Lord - 7 January (Christmas and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem)
The Theophany (Epiphany) of the Lord - 19 January (12 days after Christmas this is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and not the visit of the Magi)
The Presentation of the Lord - 15 February (presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem for his induction into Judaism)
The Annunciation - 7 April (the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary)
The Transfiguration - 19 August (the moment when Jesus is transfigured, a moment of divine radiance)
The Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) - 28 August (death of Mary)
The Entry into Jerusalem, the Ascension of Christ, and Pentecost are the other three great feast days.
In addition the Orthodox Church has another five important feast days:-
The Circumcision of Christ - 14 January (took place 8 days after his birth)
The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - 7 July
The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - 12 July
The Beheading of John the Forerunner (the Baptist) - 29 August (is a strict fast day)
The Intercession of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) - 14 October (celebrates the protection of the faithful by the Virgin Mary).
Then there are movable dates which focus on Paschal Cycle, and in addition there a whole series of other Eastern Christian Observances that also move depending upon celebration of the Resurrection and the Agape Vespers on Easter Sunday.
Since the First Council of Nicea (325 AD) Easter is defined as the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon, which follows the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox (from aequus nox meaning equal-night) is defined to always fall on 21 March. In order to conserve the sequence of events leading up to the Crucifixion of Christ and his Resurrection, it was decided that Easter must be celebrated after the Jewish Passover. However, with the Great Schism of 1054 the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western Empires, and into the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church held to the formula of the First Council of Nicea and also followed the Julian Calendar. However, the Catholic Church switched from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, and in addition it dropped the requirement to sequence Easter to always follow the Jewish Passover. The result is that the two churches usually celebrate the Easter on two different days. So the formula "the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the vernal equinox" is the same for both churches, but they base the dates on different calendars. Easter in the Orthodox Church falls between 4 April and 8 May, and in the Catholic Church between 22 March and 25 April, but occasionally the dates align and Easter is then celebrated simultaneously.
The Orthodox Church has a very extensive series of moveable feasts built around Easter (Pascha), a few of which are:-
The Pre-Lenten Season (Shrovetide) started on the 11th Sunday before Pascha and concludes on the 7th Sunday before Pascha.
The Last Judgement is on the 8th Sunday before Pascha (65 days) and also called Meat-Fare Sunday because it the last day when meat can be eaten.
The 7th Sunday before Pascha is called the Sunday of Forgiveness (Maslenitsa or Cheesefare Week) and is the last day eggs and dairy products can be eaten (49 days before Pascha). The tradition is to use up eggs, milk and butter to make pancakes or blini.
The Great Lent starts 48 days before Pascha, last 40 days, and finishes 8 days before Resurrection Sunday (Easter Sunday).
It started with Cleaning Monday (also called Ash Monday as compared with Ash Wednesday when Western Churches begin Lent).
On the 2nd Sunday before Pascha (14 days before Easter Sunday) they celebrate Saint Mary of Egypt (ca. 344-421 AD), patron saint of penitents.
The Holy Week starts with Lazarus Saturday (8 days before Pascha), is a day of joy with the Raising of Lazarus, were Jesus performs a miracle by raising Lazarus from the dead four days after his entombment.
Then we have Palm Sunday (7 days before Pascha) which commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
On the Maundy Thursday (3 days before Pascha) we have the washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the Holy Eucharist (sacramental bread and wine), and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot.
On Good Friday (2 days before Pascha) the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary is commemorated, the holy saving and life-giving Passion of Jesus.
On Holy Saturday (last day before Pascha) is seen as the day Christ 'rested' in the tomb, performing the 'Harrowing of Hell' where he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world.
Easter itself starts with a procession at mid-night on Holy Saturday to commemorate the Resurrection.
Easter Sunday is the Agape Vespers, or the eve king reading of the Gospel in various languages.
Pentecostarion is a 56 day period starting immediately after Pascha, and it starts with the Bright Week.
There is the Ascension of Jesus (39 days after Pascha or 40 days as the Resurrection) where he leave Earth to rises to Heaven.
Pentecost (49 days after Pascha) commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
All Saints' Day (49 days after Pascha) closes the Pascha cycle with a Sunday dedicated to honouring all the Saints.
Number of public holidays in different countries
UK Bank and Public Holidays and Observances
The formal definition is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, usually shortened to United Kingdom (UK). A Bank Holiday is a statutory national public holiday in the United Kingdom established by Royal proclamation, whereas public holidays are conventions in common law. England and Wales share the same legal jurisdiction and list of holidays, whereas there are some differences for Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
For simplicity of presentation I have included in the below list also the public holidays in the Republic of Ireland. Most of their public holidays occur on the same day as in the UK.
Usually if a public holiday falls on a weekend, a 'substitute' weekday becomes that holiday, normal the following Monday is used.
According to one list there are in the UK a total of 95 days of observance of one or other religious events, including a few that occur of the same day. I've includes only a few of those in the below list.
New Year's Day - 1 January is a Bank Holiday
In Scotland Hogmanay usually begins in the afternoon or evening of New Year's Eve and continues to the early hours of New Year's Day. The custom of 'first footing' continues through to 2 January.
New Year Holiday - 2 January is a holiday only in Scotland
Epiphany - 6 January
St. Patrick's Day - 17 March (the National Day in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland)
Saint Patrick (ca. 385-461) is the foremost patron saint of Ireland (Éire)
Good Friday - precedes Easter Sunday (see religious festivals, it is not a holiday in the Republic of Ireland)
Easter Monday - follows Easter Sunday (is not a holiday in Scotland)
Early May Bank Holiday (May Day) - first Monday in May
Liberation Day - 9 May (celebrated only in the Channel Islands)
Spring Bank Holiday - last Monday in May
The Republic of Ireland has their Spring Bank Holiday on the first Monday in June.
Senior Race Day - first Friday in June (celebrated only in the Isle of Man)
Tynwald Day - 5 July (celebrated as National Day in the Isle of Man)
The Twelfth - Battle of the Boyne - 12 July
Also called the Orangemen's Day, a celebration by Ulster Protestant in Northern Ireland.
The 12 July is also called the Glorious Twelfth because it's the start of the shooting season for red grouse.
Summer Bank Holiday - last Monday of August (not celebrated the Republic of Ireland)
In Scotland the Summer Bank Holiday is celebrated on the first Monday in August.
October Holiday - last Monday in October (only celebrated in the Republic of Ireland)
St. Andrew's Day - 30 November (celebrated as National Day in Scotland)
Andrew the Apostle (ca. 5-60 AD) is the foremost patron saint of Scotland
Christmas Day - 25 December
Boxing Day - 26 December
Also called Saint Stephen's Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr Saint Stephen (ca. 5-37 AD).