The church year (also known as the liturgical year and the Christian year) is made up of seasons and holy days that connect us to our faith history, the stories we read in the Bible, and Jesus’ life and ministry on earth.
The church year begins with Advent - a short season of waiting and preparation, beginning four Sundays before Christmas. After Advent, we have the season of Christmas, which begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for 12 days.
We celebrate the season of Epiphany, beginning January 6, remembering the journey of the magi and Jesus being revealed as the Savior of the world. The season of/after Epiphany is often considered Ordinary Time (based on the word “ordinal,” meaning measured or counted).
Next, we move into the season of Lent, beginning 40 days (plus Sundays) before Easter. During Lent, we remember Jesus being tempted in the desert, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and burial.
On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant resurrection - the beginning of the season of Easter, which lasts for 50 days.
The final season of the church year is Pentecost - a celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples after Jesus’ ascension and sometimes considered the birthday of the church. The season of/after Pentecost is often considered Ordinary Time, lasting until Advent.
“The Christian year contains two cycles: the Christmas Cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost). Within each cycle are a preparatory season symbolized by the color purple and a festival season symbolized by the color white. After each cycle there is an ordinary time of growth symbolized by the color green.” - UMC Book of Worship
The rhythms and seasons of the church year keep us rooted in our Christian heritage and are an important part of our spiritual growth and faith development. How do we teach this to our littlest members?
By celebrating it all throughout the year. For most of you, it would probably look something like this:
Lent: February/March or March/April
Easter: March/April or April/May
Here are a few fun ways to celebrate the church year all year long:
01 | Choose music that ties in with each season.
Find simple songs, hymns, or anthems that you can use throughout the season to reinforce the biblical stories and help children remember what makes each season unique.
Pull relevant anthems from your music library or look for collections like these:
You might also look in your hymnal to find hymns and songs that tie in. Use these as gathering music during the season or as a hymn- or song-of-the-month that you introduce and reinforce week after week.
02 | Use colorful visuals and symbols.
Use visuals to help your singers learn about the church year and follow along with the changing seasons. Consider making a liturgical calendar wheel or a timeline to hang in your choir room. You might also incorporate the color of each season into your decorations, song charts, or other visuals.
Choose a corresponding symbol or two and have the children find and uncover one somewhere in the room at the beginning of each new season. This adds a fun game element to your first rehearsal of each new season and gives the children a visual, tangible reminder of the season you're celebrating.
Here are a few ideas for symbols and colors you might use:
Advent (purple or blue): candle, wreath, star
Christmas (white): manger, star, nativity, angels, shepherd/sheep
Epiphany (white, then green for Ordinary Time): magi, star, crown, water (baptism)
Lent (purple): footsteps (journey), praying hands, palm branch (Palm Sunday), bread and cup (Last Supper), cross
Easter (white): cross, lily, butterfly, “Alleluia,” empty tomb
Pentecost (red, then green for Ordinary Time): dove, flames, world
03 | Design special take-home projects.
This is a great way to engage parents and caregivers and encourage children to continue learning about the church year outside of rehearsal. For older and younger elementary singers, have them fill out a simple worksheet at home with questions like:
- What is the color of this season?
- What symbol did we uncover to help us remember this season?
- How long is this season?
- What story/stories do we remember during this season?
Consider having a few small prizes for children who bring their completed worksheets back to choir during the season! Oriental Trading is a great place to look. Bonus points if you find a little trinket of the symbol you're using to represent the season!
04 | Celebrate the start of each new season in rehearsal.
Throw a mini party during your first rehearsal in the new season to kick things off. This is such a fun way to capture children's attention and help make it more meaningful for them.
You don't have to go all out here, but plan a few special things and play it up - your children will think choir is the most fun thing ever!
Here are a few simple ideas:
- Hang colored bunting, a flag, or a banner of some kind to mark the change in season
- Teach a short, simple song or chant about the new season
- Tell a story that goes with the season and have the children respond through movement, improvised sounds, or a simple sung response
I love the "Sing the Stories" series by Augsburg Fortress - musical, biblical, and super engaging for younger elementary choirs:
Sing the Stories of Jesus: Twenty-Five Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
Sing the Stories of God’s People: Thirty More Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
Sing the Stories of God’s New People: Twenty-Five More Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
In need of some more complete resource kits and ideas you can incorporate into worship? Take a look at these:
The Church Year Worship Kit - includes worship activities, posters, prayers, related songs (melody-line notation and recorded CD), and other resources and activities
Coloring the Faith Story - creative ideas for celebrating the church year with children, in worship, in Sunday School, and at home
How will you celebrate the church year with your choir this year?