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Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Christian Holidays

The Christian year revolves around events in the life of Jesus Christ, notably Christmas (celebrating his birth) and Easter (celebrating his death and resurrection).

The letters 'AD' stand for the Latin 'Anno Domini', meaning 'in the year of our lord', and indicate the number of years since the birth of Christ. The letters 'BC' stand for 'Before Christ', and indicate the number of years before Christ's birth.



The beginning of the Christian year, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is a countdown to the coming of Christ. Christians mark Advent with special hymns and readings in church; symbolic candles are also lit to light the way for Christ.


(25 December)

Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ and is the most widely celebrated festival in the Christian calendar. Because the actual date of his birth is unknown, it is celebrated on 25 December in the UK, to coincide with the winter solstice. Churches, homes and public places are decorated; nativity plays (telling the story surrounding the birth of Christ) are performed in schools and churches; special services that include readings about the meaning of Christ's birth and special hymns (carols) are held in churches; people exchange cards and gifts, and generally celebrate with family and friends (often consuming traditional food and alcoholic drinks together).

Easter festivals

The dates of the following Easter festivals revolve around the crucifixion of Christ and vary each year.

Shrove Tuesday
(February or March)

Shrove Tuesday marks the day before the start of Lent, its name deriving from 'shriven', which meant the act of making confession before Lent. It is traditional in the UK to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, because it was once customary to use up fats and any luxury foods in preparation for the fasting period of Lent.

Ash Wednesday
(February or March)

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent; it is named after the ritual of priests making a mark with ash on the forehead of worshippers, to indicate their mortality. During Lent, the 40-day period of penitence leading up to Easter, many Christians fast, by giving up some of their favourite foods.

Mothering Sunday (or Mother's Day)

Mothering Sunday (or Mother's Day) is held on the fourth Sunday during Lent. Traditionally, it was the day on which Christians attended the 'mother church' for spiritual refreshment during Lent. The fast was interrupted to eat 'simnel cakes'. Today, 'Mother's Day' is popular as a time for thanking mothers for all they do, by sending them a card, giving them a gift, letting them have a day's rest and/or taking them out for a meal.

Passion Sunday

Passion Sunday is on the fifth Sunday in Lent, and the day on which Christians contemplate Christ's suffering.

Palm Sunday
(March or April)

On Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, Christians receive a palm-leaf cross, symbolising the palm leaves that the crowds waved at Christ when he rode into Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. Special lessons and hymns are also read in church on this day. Throughout Holy Week, which is the last week of Lent, Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Christ with readings from all four Gospels.

Maundy Thursday
(March or April)

Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, when he commanded them to wash each other's feet as a gesture of humility and service. He also commanded that they love one another, and Christians today demonstrate this by making donations to charity, most notably the payments of 'Maundy money' made by the Queen. It is traditional for the altars in Catholic churches to be stripped bare at the end of Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday
(March or April)

Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Christ, which Christians believe to be 'good' because it led to the salvation of mankind. This is a solemn time when there are no decorations in church, and consecrated bread from a previous mass is used for communion, as a mark of fasting and abstinence. A special church service is held on this day from noon until 3 o'clock, the time at which it is thought Christ died. Many Christians eat 'hot cross buns' (spiced, fruited breads rolls marked with a symbolic cross) on Good Friday.

Holy Saturday
(March or April)

On Holy Saturday, Catholics celebrate Easter with a special late-evening church service. The congregation leave the church in darkness before midnight, then they re-enter the building at midnight, carrying with them a paschal candle. This symbolises rolling away the rock at the entrance to Christ's tomb and overcoming the darkness of death.

Easter Day
(March or April)

Easter Day is the first Sunday after the first new moon following the vernal equinox. It is the most important Christian festival, celebrating the resurrection of Christ and the arrival of the new life with the onset of spring. Churches are decorated with flowers, and Easter eggs are given to children as a symbol of new life. Catholics have a duty to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist on Easter Day.

Ascension Day

(May or June)

Ascension Day is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter, and marks the last earthly appearance of Christ, when he transcended all earthly limitations.

Pentecost (or Whitsun)

(May or June)

Pentecost (or Whitsun) falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter and celebrates God's gift of the Holy Spirit to Christ's followers. It is a traditional time for the baptism of converts, who wear white to symbolise new life, hence the name Whitsun or White Sunday.

Trinity Sunday

(May or June)

Trinity Sunday celebrates, on the Sunday after Pentecost, the communion of God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Corpus Christi


Corpus Christi on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, is a joyful Catholic celebration that gives thanks for the role of Jesus in the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Catholics often parade through the town, displaying consecrated bread in a ceremonial container called a 'monstrance'.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

(June or July)

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is held on the third Friday after Pentecost. Catholics celebrate Christ's love on this day with images of him and a heart.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(15 August)

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on 15 August, is celebrated by Catholics in thanksgiving for Mary's ascension to heaven.

St Michael and All Angels

(29 September)

St Michael and All Angels is when Catholics celebrate the saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

The Immaculate Conception

(8 December)

The Immaculate Conception, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrates the Catholic belief that Mary was herself born of immaculate conception in order to be free of sin as the mother of Jesus Christ.