This week's giveaway is in the EJB and other Java EE Technologies forum. We're giving away four copies of EJB 3 in Action and have Debu Panda, Reza Rahman, Ryan Cuprak, and Michael Remijan on-line! See this thread for details.
getInstance is usually a method that you have in a "Factory" class. There is a design pattern that is called "Factory Method" pattern, which has a factory class that returns instances of a class. Instead of creating the class through "new", you go through the Factory and call its getInstance() method.
There are many reasons to use this design pattern and a discussion like that, I am sure you can find in our UML/Design Patterns forum. Just do a search in that forum for Factory.
Just to add to what's already been said, here's why you need to use getInstance with a Calendar object.
If you look up the documentation for the Calendar class, you'll notice that its constructors have the "protected" access modifier. In other words, no code that lies outside of its package (the "java.*" package) can call the constructor. And if you can't call the constructor, you can't use "new" to create a new instance of the object.
So how do you get a new instance if you can't call the constructor? You call a static, class method--in this case, that's getInstance(). That method is allowed to call the constructor, since it's part of the same class. It then passes a reference to the new object back to you.
A class is typically set up this way when a central point of control over the creation of the object is needed for some reason. For example, the class might look around to see if the object has already been created. If it has, it will just pass you a reference to that already-existing instance. If not, it will create one for you. (That's example of the "Singleton" pattern Mark mentioned, by the way.)