They Church year begins with Advent, the four (or sometimes seven) Sundays prior to Christmas. It is a time of expectation, as we wait for Jesus' coming, not only his first coming as a baby, but also his second coming on the Last Day. Many of the readings during Advent focus on the Old Testament prophecies that foretold of the coming Savior.
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus birth. The celebration lasts two Sundays. (The twelve days of Christmas are actually the twelve days after Christmas). We rejoice in the fulfilled promise of a Savior.
Epiphany is January 6th (12 days after Christmas). It is the celebration of the magi's visit to the baby Jesus. This focuses on the fact that Jesus came to draw all people to Him. He is the light, just as the light of a star drew the magi to Bethlehem. The Sunday after Epiphany is the celebration of Jesus Baptism. The remaining Sundays of the season of Epiphany focus on the ministry of Jesus. The main theme running throughout Epiphany is essentially the mission of the Church: To go and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Transfiguration Sunday is the Sunday at the end of Epiphany and right before the start of Lent. The Transfiguration is when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain where he was changed before them. His clothes became blindingly white and his face shown and Elijah and Moses appeared with Him. (See Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9). We celebrate this event prior to Lent because it illustrates that Jesus is truly the Son of God and reveals a glimpse of the hope we have because Jesus died and rose again.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40 days of Lent. Many churches practice the imposition of ashes. Ashes are placed on the forehead or hand while the pastor says "remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return." In the Old Testament, ashes are a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. We put them in the shape of a cross, however, to point us towards the promise of forgiveness of sins because of Jesus' Crucifixion.
Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter. It is meant as a time to focus on our sins and our need for a savior. Why is that important? If we didn't sin and deserve punishment for that sin, Jesus never would have had to die on the cross. Easter would mean nothing. By focusing on our inability to be good and not sin, Easter becomes so much more joyful because without it, we would be dead in our sins. (See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6). Why are Sundays not included as part of Lent? Each Sunday is seen as a sort of mini-Easter so the more subdued tone of Lent doesn't really apply.
Holy Week and Easter
Holy Week starts with Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and ends with his Resurrection on Easter. Between these two Sundays, we also celebrate Maundy Thursday, which is when Jesus instituted Holy Communion and gave the command to love one another and Good Friday, when we remember Jesus' crucifixion. Easter, of course, is the celebration of Jesus Resurrection and his triumph over death. The Easter season lasts for 50 days.
Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter. Is marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as found in Acts 2. The season after Pentecost focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church. This season, also called Ordinary Time or the Time of the Church, lasts until the start of Advent.
As a Lutheran Church, we celebrate Reformation Sunday on or prior to October 31st. This is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the Castle Church in Wittenburg. We use this day to talk about what makes Lutherans unique and to celebrate the forgiveness we receive through grace alone, through faith alone, as revealed in Scripture alone.
All Saints' Day
All Saints' Day is the November 1st, but is usually celebrated on the Sunday after. On this day we commemorate the lives of those who have died in the faith. We remember that promised rest we have and the fact that death is not the end for the Christian.