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Christianity - Festivals and Celebrations

This GCSE RE quiz takes a look at festivals and celebrations. In common with most great world faiths, Christianity enjoys its fair share of celebrations and festivals: you may well already be familiar with at least some of these, but please be aware that this present quiz does not include 'personal festivals' (e.g. marking birth, marriage or death) since these are treated separately as Rites of Passage.

The main Christian festivals mark the birth of Jesus (observed each 25 December, which was highly unlikely to be the actual anniversary); His Resurrection from death on Easter Sunday (also rarely likely to be the precise anniversary); His Ascension back into Heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to awaken the Church (Pentecost / ‘Whit Sunday’).

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The birth festival of Christmas is preceded by a month of awaiting (Advent), and the events of Holy Week (leading from Palm Sunday [commemorating the Triumphal Entry] to Good Friday and the Crucifixion) are preceded by a 40-day penitential period known as Lent. After Pentecost comes Trinity Sunday, marking the complete manifestation of God in His three Persons (creator Father; Jesus the Son; and the Holy Spirit); the Church then passes into ‘Ordinary Time’, with no other such special observances in the summer months between about June and October, when Harvest and Remembrance come a few weeks before the next Advent begins.

Other occasional festivals are held in certain traditions, such as the marking of All Saints’ Day and the feast &/or martyrdom dates of individual saints, e.g. the patron (name-) saint of any given church building; Harvest Festival in the autumn (as mentioned above), and a matching springtime observance at the beginning of nature’s visible annual growth cycle (see question 10 below); Remembrance Day has taken on most of the civic and ceremonial aspects of a religious festival, with solemn parades, music and evocative commemorative forms of words.

Come with us now through a range of these special events, and discover how they have come about and how they tend to be marked!

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  1. Most of us (Christian or otherwise) regard Christmas ~ the annual celebration of the birth of 'the founder of Christianity' (not that He would have recognised that label Himself) ~ as falling on 25 December. But there is a whole branch of the Church which celebrates it two weeks later: who, and when (and why)?
    All the alternative answers in this case were virtually complete rubbish, however plausible the details or arguments may have seemed. You may wish to research Gregory and the Gregorian Calendar (and indeed Gregorian Chant) as important features within the story of Christianity.
  2. Easter is honoured by most Christians as marking the day when the resurrected Jesus was seen by the first of His followers. But what is the official name given to the occasion when He was taken up bodily into Heaven, 'and was seen by them no more'?
    ('Hail the day that sees Him rise', as one much-loved hymn puts it.) Just as there is a span of 40 days and nights of Lent before each Holy Week and Easter, there is a somewhat similar span afterwards, to represent His risen ministry before He was taken up to Heaven. Which leads us to our next question ...
  3. What festival is regarded as 'the birthday of the Church'?
    This was the day when, according to Luke's report in The Acts of the Apostles, the Disciples were gathered in an upper room for fear of being persecuted by the authorities, when they heard the sound of a mighty wind and saw tongues of flame alighting onto each other's heads, which they took to be signs of God's special presence with them. (God often manifests Himself in the form of a fire or flame: think of 'Let there be light'; Moses and the Burning Bush; Elijah calling down fire to disprove the 'false prophets'; the Star of Bethlehem; Paul being struck blind on his way to Damascus.) They then went out boldly, led by St Peter, to begin preaching the Gospel ~ even in languages they had never formally learned. This day is also known as Whitsun.
  4. The character many children worldwide know as 'Santa Claus' or 'Father Christmas' is a version of a Christian Saint, the Patron Saint of children indeed, whose feast-day falls early in Advent (the run-up to Christmas). What is this saint's proper name?
    'Claus' is itself a version of 'Klaus', the Germanic equivalent of 'Nick' (i.e. the other half of 'Nicholas'). Apparently the 'traditional' red robes are a relatively recent addition by the Coca Cola co's marketing department; older versions show him in green (perhaps in turn suggestive of evergreens, and the 'holly-&-ivy' promise of life even during nature's seemingly deadest time of the year) ... and there are various other world traditions of 'Father Frost' and other such jovial, generous old gentlemen figures to lighten the darkest days.
  5. As there is a (supposedly) calm and penitential preparatory season prior to Christmas, so there is a span of several weeks leading up to each spring's Holy Week and Easter. It is known as Lent, and is perhaps not best considered as a Festival or Celebration because of its inherently solemn nature; but it is certainly an integral part of the Christian calendar, albeit as a 'down' rather than an 'up'.

    On what day does Lent begin?
    The 'ash' reference is to the Old Testament tradition by which a penitent ~ i.e. someone seeking to 'say sorry' and mend their ways with respect to God ~ would dress in sackcloth (which made them bodily uncomfortable) and ashes (which presumably felt gritty on the skin and were a convenient public 'badge of dirtiness'). A traditional text associated with this is Ps.51 ('Have mercy on me o God; after Your great goodness ... wash away my offences'), which is sung in a suitably heart-rendingly beautiful setting at the Vatican each year. Each of the 'false' answers this time is a genuine feature of the calendar around this same stage of the year. You may wish to research these further.
  6. What is the Christian origin of the Carnival?
    Yes, it was originally a matter of saying goodbye* to foods that were rich in fat and protein: the 'carn-' bit is indeed a reference to meat, as in 'carnivore'. One would then subsist on simpler fare, in deference to Jesus, who, according to the Gospels, had nothing at all to eat during several weeks in the desert as He was preparing for His earthly ministry.

    There are plausible echoes in answers 2 and 3, but the analogies are largely spurious. However, observant Jews do make a feature of clearing out every last 'forbidden' morsel before a penitential season of their own (see our appropriate quiz on Judaism).

    (* 'Vale' in Latin [pronounced 'vah-leh' rather than 'vail'] = 'be well; stay valid')
  7. Why do people, including plenty of non-believers, make such a 'thing' of giving presents at or around Christmas-time?
    The main theme is undoubtedly one of giving (see John 3:16 which is often read in churches on Christmas Day). The alternative Answers may have a grain of truth in them ... but, on the whole, are un-Christian and self-indulgent!
  8. How come that English-speaking Christians refer to the day when their Lord was put to death as 'Good Friday'?
    The name may seem perverse, but this is indeed the reasoning. The even-numbered 'distractors' (answers 2 & 4) may have seemed tempting ... but neither should be regarded as valid.
  9. What is the name of the (Protestant) Christian denomination that traces its own origins to the first Whit Sunday, and would duly describe its own energetic and free-flowing worship style as 'very much Spirit-led' (even to include 'speaking in Tongues' sometimes)?
    Pentecostalism is certainly not exclusively associated with black congregations, but it's probably fair to claim there is quite an overlap.
    Pentecostalists do not follow a fixed liturgy (scheme of worship); they are free to chant and move 'as the Spirit leads them', and where's the harm in that? Many of us from more apparently conservative worship traditions, or indeed from none, can still not fail to be struck by the energy and fervour of Pentecostalist worship.
  10. Harvest Festival (as such) is, perhaps, a relatively recent addition to the calendar of many churches, having been instituted in the 19th century ... not all that long, within a church-historical perspective of 2,000-odd years, before Remembrance came in after World War 1. Indeed, for churchgoers (and active organists like your author), Harvest in the early autumn is usually followed fairly closely by Remembrance in early November as an occasion for a special service.

    It's all very well thanking God for all the bounties of the harvest ... but what would have been the 'other end of the arc': the Sunday when Anglicans, at least, pray to God around the (apparent!) START of the farming year?
    Rogation (as also within 'interrogation') is all about asking. There are some charming and evocative prayer-sequences still used in rural parishes to invoke God's blessing and protection on such features as barns and wells. The other 3 answers each refer to genuine fixtures on the church calendar, which you may care to research separately.

Author: Ian Miles

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