Green is the color of living things and God's creation. Green is the color of the Season after Pentecost and it is also the color symbolizing Epiphany.
Epiphany is the third season of the church year. The word "epiphany" means "making God manifest". It marks the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. It reminds us that while Jesus was a Jew and spoke largely to Jewish crowds during his life on Earth, he also spoke to non-Jews. It was made very clear to the Apostles after the crucifixion that they were to spread the Word to all, Jewish or otherwise. The primary theme is Baptism, beginning with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. This season begins on the Day of the Epiphany and lasts until Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. The liturgical color of green is used on vestments, representing the green things of God's earth and referring to growth of the spirit of God within us in response to His coming at Christmas.
The period called the Season after Pentecost is a time in which we re-enact the story of salvation proclaimed in the preceding seasons. The liturgical color is green, symbolizing growth. This season is sometimes referred to as "ordinary time". The last Sunday of the Season after Pentecost is often called the Sunday of Christ the King. It is a day of triumph of our Lord and his final victory in the heart of the community. Then, since we are as yet imperfect people in an imperfect world, we begin the cycle again with Advent, waiting for God to work His miracles in our hearts.
Red is the color that symbolizes fire and blood. As such, red is used as the liturgical color for Palm Sunday and Pentecost.
Palm Sunday and Holy Week follow Lent and last until Easter. Palm Sunday begins with the triumphal procession commemorating Jesus' entrance in the Holy City (Jerusalem) on a donkey. Participants experience a dramatic change in the middle of things. What had seemed like Jesus being joined by the crowd becomes the confrontation of Jesus as he is sought for arrest by the authorities. The color for Palm Sunday is red, signifying the red of martyrs and the color of blood.
Pentecost (Greek for 50 days) commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ. The vestment and altar hanging color is red, symbolic of the tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit descended.
White is the color that symbolizes joy, purity, and truth. It is, therefore, the liturgical color for the seasons of Christmas and Easter.
Easter is the highest point of the church year and the Great Vigil is the first Eucharist of Easter. This is the most ancient liturgy of the church year. We go from death to life with Christ -- through fire, light, word, water, bread, and wine. We will kindle new fire, both physically and in our hearts. We shall light the great Paschal candle, and read the Bible by its light. In its light, we will offer prayer and praise. In the light, we will celebrate the Easter sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. We gather in tomb-like darkness and, suddenly, a flame is lit among us. This flame is the new first of Christ born among us in the midst of darkness. The paschal Candle, symbolizing the pillar of fire by which God led the Hebrews out of Egypt toward the promised land, is lit from the first and the celebrant processes into the Nave. The celebrant pauses three times to change, The Light of Christ, and three times the people respond, Thanks be to god. The people light individual candles from the Paschal Candle and the light spreads in the darkness among the congregation as we chant and read the Old Testament stories of God's deliverance from death and slavery. Then, with the first reading from the resurrection narratives, all the lights come on and we sing alleluias for the first time since the Epiphany season. Easter lasts 50 days and ends on the Day of Pentecost. During the fifty days of the Easter Season, the liturgical color is white and liturgies are uplifting and joyful. God has brought us full circle: from ashes into the fullness of life and joy. God does, indeed, have the final world. The Paschal Candle burns in the church near the font throughout Easter.
Christmas was first celebrated about 336. The celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25 was set in the 4th century, adopting the dates of the Roman Saturnalia on December 17, and the birth of the Iranian god, Mithras, on December 25, together with ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. Christmas is the season when we proclaim the unique nature of our God -- that God does not stand distant from us, but fully enters our lives -- Emanuel, "God with us". The first liturgy of Christmas is on Christmas Eve and the late night liturgy, called the Christ Mass is a high point of the year. The season of Christmas lasts for 12 days, beginning on December 25th and ending on the 12th night, or January 5th. The color used for Christmas liturgies is white.
According to the Book of Feasts and Seasons by Joanna Bogle, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was used as a form of catechism from the 1550's to the 1820's. Children were taught their doctrine in this way:
First Day - Partridge - God or Christ
Second Day - Turtle Doves - Old and New Testaments
Third Day - French Hens - Faith, Hope, and Charity
Fourth Day - Calling Birds - Four Gospels
Fifth Day - Golden Rings - First five books of the Old Testament, the Torah
Sixth Day - Gees a laying - Six days of Creation
Seventh Day - Swans a swimming - Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eighth Day - Maids a milking - Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
Ninth Day - Ladies dancing - Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galations 5:22)
Tenth Day - Lords a leaping - Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
Eleventh Day - Pipers piping - Eleven faithful disciples (Acts 1:13)
Twelfth Day - Drummers drumming - Twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed
Purple is commonly seen in the seasons of Advent and Lent as the color represents penitence and expectation.
Advent: Advent was the last season to be officially added to the church calendar, in about 600 AD. It was made the first season of the year because it begins the story of the events of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Advent refers to the approach or arrival of someone or something and is the season in which we anticipate God's birth into our world. Advent is a time to examine ourselves and our lives and do an inner housecleaning as we make ourselves ready to receive the wonder of Jesus. It is a quiet, contemplative time as we await the majesty of God. Beginning in late November or early December, Advent contains the four Sundays before Christmas Day. We use an Advent Wreath of four purple candles and one white candle, lighting a purple candle each week. On Christmas Eve, the fifth candle (white) is lit to acknowledge the arrival of the Light of the world. Many families also observe the Advent Wreath custom at home with special readings and prayers for the seasonal observance.
Lent: Lent is 40 days long (not counting Sundays, which are always feast days). Lent reflects the 40 days Jesus was tested in the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River. It begins on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes and the words "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," to remind us that we are mortal. Only through God's merciful gift (Jesus), which we celebrate every Sunday and especially at Easter, can we hope to have eternal life. For thousands of years, covering oneself with sackcloth and ashes has been a sign of mourning. Early Christians also used these symbols as signs of repentance. Liturgies during Lent are subdued, introspective, and penitential in nature, often beginning in silence and with the general confession of the people. The color used is purple, signifying the penitent mood of Lent.
On Good Friday ("good" meaning a day or season observed by the church), our Lord was crucified. We gather for one of the most powerful liturgies of the year. Here, we share the pain of the death of Jesus Christ, the end of all hope. We being the observance of the three days of death, when our Lord was in the tomb. Lights are dimmed. There are no decorations in the church. Our church bell has not rung throughout the season of Lent. Black is a commonly featured color on Good Friday.