William J. Stewart | Do You Really Know Jesus?
Did Jesus keep the holidays? Absolutely, but His holidays (better described as holy days) were not the same as what people today keep. Born under the Law, Jesus observed the seven holy days as described in Leviticus 23:
- Feast of Firstfruits
- Feast of Trumpets
- Feast of Atonement
- Feast of Tabernacles
However, there are other Jewish feasts not given in the Law of Moses, such as Purim (a celebration of the Jews deliverance from Haman’s plot in the days of Esther, see Esther 9:17-32) and Hanukkah (remembering the rededication of the temple after the Maccabean revolt in 165 BC). Did Jesus observe these days?
Some has speculated that the unnamed feast in John 5:1 was Purim, though there is no way to know for sure. However, John 10:22-23 specifically mentions the Feast of Dedication (aka Hanukkah). Nothing is said in Scripture of the activities to be done on either day, but there are a few things we should consider about the Lord and these days.
Jesus did not condemn these holidays. He did condemn any traditions or observances which may negate God’s law (Matthew 15:3-6) or involve misusing things dedicated to Him (Mark 11:15-17). These days were celebrations of important national events; perhaps comparable in some ways to Canada Day or Remembrance Day. Though participation in these national holidays was acceptable, they were not equal to those commanded by God. The Passover was a required feast day in Israel, Hanukkah was not.
Some have spoken of Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras. It appears Mardi Gras began as a Catholic festival, culminating a day before Ash Wednesday. But in practice, Mardi Gras seems to be nothing more than an excuse for immodest costumes, excessive drinking, lustful dancing, and all kinds of debauchery.
Purim is identified as “days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22). So long as the activities of the festival accord with holiness, there is no reason to think the Lord didn’t participate; however in the things that would invite wickedness, He would not join in or condone. For example, according to the Talmud,
A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.” (Megillah 7b)
The rabbis may condone such an activity, but the Jesus would not.
What about Easter or Christmas? Of course neither existed in the first century, at least not as we know them today. In Jesus’ day, it was Eastre, a feast to the goddess of fertility during the spring equinox and Saturnalia, which occurred at the winter solstice. Would the Lord have kept either of these? Absolutely not, for to do so, He would have participated in pagan worship.
Should we celebrate Easter & Christmas, knowing that the Lord wouldn’t participate in the festivals they originated from? A few things to think about:
- Are Christmas and Easter pagan holidays? I’m not asking if their origin is pagan. They were. But now, are they pagan holidays? That is, when folks celebrate these to-day, is the focus on exalting Eastre & Saturn? If If not, then they’re no longer pagan holidays, and the gods formerly linked with them get no more glory than Thor does if we say Thursday.
- Are the practices sinful? If there is nothing wrong with eating chocolate & turkey, painting eggs, giving gifts, decorating a tree, etc., then it is fine to participate. But, if a Christmas tree makes you think of Woden, Adonia or some other pagan god, then don’t put one up!
- Finally, don’t try to make them Christian holidays. They are not found in the Bible at all. Enjoy family, friends and food, but don’t turn them into religious holidays. We have no right to create holy days that God hasn’t authorized.