If you've spent much time with a child at Savior, you've probably heard them sing their song about the colors of the church year (and if you haven't heard it, you should ask one of them to sing it for you!):
Purple says: get ready, for the feast is near.
White says: rejoice, the feast is here.
Green is for the growing time the rest of the year;
Red is for Pentecost, Holy Spirit Day.
This song helps orient children to the rhythms of the liturgical year, in which fasts (Advent and Lent) are followed by feasts (Christmas and Easter), and much of the year is neither feast nor fast, but instead Ordinary Time. (The term "Ordinary Time" comes from the way it's counted in ordinal numbers — the first Sunday after Pentecost, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, etc. But it's also ordinary in the other sense as we go about our ordinary work.)
We mark each new season in the church year by changing the color of the altar cloth, banners, vestments worn by clergy, even the tablecloths on the Welcome and Info tables. Although there is some variation, most liturgical churches use a somber purple during Advent and Lent. Feasts are marked by white or gold, colors that remind us of the glory and splendor of God. Red is the color for Pentecost, bringing to mind the tongues of fire that danced on the heads of the disciples when then Holy Spirit came upon them. And Ordinary Time is green, symbolizing a time of work and growth in the power of the Spirit.
Why use liturgical colors?
We use symbols to mark all sorts of seasons and holidays: the pots of mums that indicate the coming of fall; the red and green decorations that presage Christmas; the banners and balloons in a yard that point to some special event. Likewise, the changing colors point us to shifts in the church year. Especially for those of us new to the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, a new color reminds us of a shift as we cycle through fasting, feasting and growing.
Also, liturgical worship seeks to engage all of our senses: our ears and minds as we hear and learn, and also our bodies as we touch and taste the bread and wine, make the sign of the cross on our bodies, stand for the Gospel and kneel for the confession of sin. Liturgical colors engage our eyes, giving us visual cues to the story told in the church calendar of longing for Christ, celebrating Christ, and growing in the body of Christ.
Liturgical colors beyond the sanctuary
As we orient our lives towards the gospel, the cycle of the liturgical year helps us to focus on different parts of God's story. If you find the liturgical colors helpful in pointing you towards the presence of God in our lives, you might consider incorporating the colors into your home. A colored candle is a simple way to mark the season; if you have a prayer corner or prayer table, you might incorporate the seasonal color.
And perhaps you can also learn the children's song, immersing yourself along with them in the rhythms of the church year and the great story of God's love for us.