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The colors of Christ — Churches use variety of drapings to mark Easter season

In the days before Easter, Christian crosses draped with colored cloth is a common sight, but what color a church chooses to drape on the cross, when it's draped and why is as varied as the churches themselves.

"Each church has their own traditions and we have the colors of the season as guidelines," said Father Dan Crockett of St. Simon's Episcopal Church in Conyers.

In some churches, the cross is draped with purple beginning on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which this year fell on Feb. 17. The purple drapings, which sometimes hang for almost the entire duration of Lent, can be seen at Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Episcopalian churches and during Holy Week at Baptist and Catholic churches.

Purple is the seasonal color for Lent, said Pastor Tom Sparks of Conyers Presbyterian Church, meant to signify repentance. Though some people choose to give up certain foods at Lent, said Sparks, the season is truly designed for more spiritual endeavors.

"It's really deeper than that. It's to reflect on your life of discipleship, to be more faithful to Christ," said Sparks.

Sparks said that on Good Friday, the color of the drape at his church changes to black to represent Christ's death on the cross. The service is also known as the Tenebrae, a Latin word for shadows.

"Some churches will take all the communion off the table, close the Bible and drape black cloth over the table and the Bible to signify complete darkness," said Sparks.

When Easter Sunday arrives, churches change the purple or black drapes to white, representing purity and Christ's resurrection.

Sparks said the Protestant and Catholic churches have borrowed and shared traditions.

"The Protestant churches realized that worship needed to be more visual. It's particularly helpful for children," said Sparks.

At Heritage Hills Baptist Church, three crosses are erected and purple is hung on the center cross on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter. On Good Friday, a black drape is placed on the cross. At Easter, the black is replaced with white.

Heritage Hills Minister of Worship and Music Scott Fraser said that purple is used because it represents royalty and Jesus is considered a king as He makes his way through Jerusalem.

He described his church as a blended church, one that mixes both contemporary and traditional worship. Most Baptist churches tailor their holy observances based on what best suits their congregation.

"They're very independent, so it's up to each individual church how they want to celebrate their church year," said Fraser.

Crockett said his church, St. Simon's Episcopal, hangs a purple drape, for repentance, on the first day of Lent and changes the color to red on Palm Sunday. Red represents the blood of the Holy Spirit and that of martyrs.

Black may be hung on Good Friday in the Episcopal church, said Crockett, and a white drape is hung on Easter day. Other colors throughout the Episcopal church year include blue, the color of anticipation for the birth of Christ, and green, the color representing Ordinary Time, days that aren't encompassed by Advent, Lent, Christmas or Easter.

The Catholic church also uses red and purple during Holy Week, but black is never used, said Father John Kieran of St. Pius X Catholic Church. On Good Friday, most Catholic churches cover images of Jesus to observe His death. The covers are removed and white applied in observance of Easter.

Kieran pointed out that Catholic traditions have seeped into Protestant denominations.

"All of this is a bit individualistic," said Kieran of the colors used by various churches.