What are the holidays in the Bible? How many holidays are there? When are they celebrated this year?
When I think of holidays, all kinds of emotions and memories go through my mind. Memories of recent 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:
When: weekly, the 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
Reference: Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:11
When: Tishrei 1 (Fall)
How: gathering, rest, and memorial blowing of trumpets, during the Tabernacle and Temple times -offerings at the Temple
Why: by tradition, this marks the beginning of the ten days of repentance leading up to the Day of Atonement.
Reference: Leviticus 23:22-25
When: Tishrei 10 (Fall)
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.
Reference: Leviticus 23:26-32, Hebrews 9:11-15
When: Tishrei 15-22 (Fall)
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
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
When: Nissan 15-21 (Spring)
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
When: First day, after Passover (Spring)
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
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
The holidays in the Bible 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
When: Kislev 25 – Tevet 2 (Winter)
How: lighting candles for eight days, adding one candle each day until all eight are lit
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 Christians, we have holidays we celebrate to commemorate events related to the life of Jesus–Christmas and Easter.
When: December 25 (on the Gregorian Calendar)
How: gather, exchange gifts
Why: remember the birth of Jesus, the coming of the promised Messiah
Reference: Matthew 1 and Luke 2
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
Reference: Luke 24:3-8, Mark 16:5-7
The holidays in the Bible were God’s idea. These special times were set aside times to remember the works He had done in the past. They are also a time to remember His works in our lives and have time to tell them to our children and grandchildren.
Our 2020-2021 Biblical Calendar and Notes is a great place to start!
The Biblical Feasts and Holiday is a great way to learn the basics of each holiday!
The next time you set down with your calendar, mark these dates! God set these times up for us to use them to worship Him, remember His mighty works, and to grow in our faith.