When I think of holidays, all kinds of emotions and memories go through my mind. Memories of recently holidays, the look on my grandchildren’s faces when they opened a special gift, and the laughter around the table. Memories of those who were at a holiday meal last year, but not this year.
For most of my life I did not relate the feasts in the Bible with holidays. The term holiday is a euphemism for “holy days.” Today, I want to explore biblical holy days, and by this I mean holidays mentioned in the Bible or holidays that commemorate biblical events.
The word holiday is only found in the book of Esther, but the concept of a day set aside to celebrate or remember is found throughout the Bible. The first time we read about God setting aside time as special is in regard to the Sabbath, in Genesis 2:1-3.
In Leviticus 23, God set aside feast days for His people. The term feast here is moed and can also be translated “appointed times.”(1) These appointments are times God set aside to meet with His people, time for us to remember the mighty works of God on behalf of those who have lived before us.
Let us briefly look at these holidays, asking these questions:
- By what name(s) is this holiday known?
- When does it occur in the year?
- How is it to be remembered?
- Why is this time set aside?
- Where do we find this holiday in Scripture?
Sabbath – Shabbat
When: weekly, seventh day of the week
How: no work, rest day, to remember
Why: keep it holy and provide rest for God’s people, to gather
When: Nissan 14 in the evening (spring)
How: during the time of the Tabernacle and Temple, the children of Israel sacrificed a lamb and then shared a special meal with their family.
Why: to remember how God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt through Moses. As believers we also remember how the death of Jesus delivered us from sin.
Reference: Leviticus 23:4-5
Unleavened Bread – Chag HaMatzot
When: Nissan 15-21
How: eat no bread with leavening (yeast), rest on the first and seventh day
Why: to remember how the children of Israel left Egypt so quickly that they did not have time to let their bread rise and had to make unleavened bread for food.
Reference: Leviticus 23:6-8
Feast of First Fruits
When: Sunday after Passover
How: after the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, each year they brought the first fruits of the spring harvest (like barley) to the Lord and offered them along with other offerings at the Temple.
Why: to help the children of Israel remember to give thanks to God for the first fruits of the harvest and to show they trusted Him to bring in the rest of the harvest.
Reference: Leviticus 23:9-14
Pentecost – Shavuot – Feast of Weeks
When: 50 days after the Feast of First Fruits (summer)
How: like the celebration of the First Fruits, the children of Israel brought the first fruits of the summer harvest (like wheat) to the Lord and offered them along with other offerings at the Temple. When harvesting the rest of their crops, they were instructed to leave the corners of the field so the poor could harvest them.
Why: to thank the Lord, remember how God had provided for them, and give to the poor. By tradition, this was the day the Lord gave Moses the Law. Pentecost is also a day of rest for the people. As believers we remember when the Holy Spirit was given to believers after the resurrection of Jesus.
Reference: Leviticus 23:15-22
Feast of Trumpets – Rosh Hashanah
When: Tishrei 1 (fall)
How: gathering, rest, and memorial blowing of trumpets, offering at the Temple
Why: by tradition, this marks the beginning of the days of repentance leading up to the Day of Atonement.
Reference: Leviticus 23:22-25
Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur
When: Tishrei 10
How: gather, rest, fasting (afflicting your soul)
Why: during the time of the Tabernacle and Temple, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make atonement before the Lord. Jesus made atonement for us, once for all, in the heavenly Temple.
Feast of Tabernacles – Succoth
When: Tishrei 15-22
How: gather branches from various types of trees and rejoice before the Lord, gather as a congregation and rest. This holiday is celebrated by building temporary booths (tents) and living in them for seven days.
Why: to remember how the children of Israel lived in booths after they left Egypt.
Reference: Leviticus 23:33-44
These holidays are ones instituted by God but there are also two other holidays mentioned in Scripture that were instituted and celebrated by God’s people, Purim and Hanukkah.
When: Adar 14 and 15 (early spring)
How: feasting, joy, and sending gifts to one another
Why: remember how God delivered His people in Ancient Persia through Esther, the Jewish Queen
Reference: Esther 1-10
Feast of Dedication – Hanukkah – Feast of Lights
When: Kislev 25 – Tevet 2 (winter)
How: lighting candles for eight days
Why: to remember the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees, after it was defiled. God performed a miracle; one day of holy oil for the lamp stand lasted eight days, allowing time for more oil to be purified.
Reference: Hanukkah is referenced in John 10:22 and the history is found in the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees.
Like Purim and Hanukkah, as believers we have holidays we celebrate to commemorate events related to the life of Jesus–Christmas and Easter.
Christmas – Christ’s Mass
When: December 25 (on the Gregorian Calendar)
How: gather, exchange gifts
Why: remember the birth of Jesus, the coming of the promised Messiah
Easter – Resurrection Day
When: the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox (2)
How: gathering and reflecting
Why: to celebrate that Jesus rose from the grave and conquered death
The next time you celebrate a holiday, what do you want to do differently?