Holidays! Don't we all look forward to
them? They are a time of rest and relaxation, of fun
and enjoyment - a time to spend on ourselves.
But how many of you know that the origin
of the word holiday is 'holy day'?
Holidays, or 'holy days', were originally
days set apart for the worship of God. They were days
in which men and women stopped doing everyday things
for themselves and instead concentrated on what God
had done for them.
Importantly for the Israelites, one day
out of every seven had to be set aside for God. It was
called the Sabbath and was the seventh day of
the week. The pattern of six days of work and one day
of rest can be traced right back to the very beginning
when God created everything in six days and 'rested'
on the seventh. The Sabbath belonged to God and the
Israelites had to use the day to worship Him and remember
all that He had done.
Other important 'holy days' were kept
by the Israelites and one of the most important was
the Passover. Indeed, it is still a very important
festival in Israel today.
It began when the Israelites were captives
in Egypt. On the night God delivered them from captivity
each Israelite family had to sacrifice a lamb and paint
some of the blood on the outside of their door posts
and lintels. When the angel of God went through Egypt
to kill all the firstborn (the eldest of each family)
he "passed over" the Israelites' houses that were marked
with the blood and so spared them. The Egyptians were
not so fortunate!
Bread made quickly without yeast - unleavened
bread - was eaten at the Passover meal and all through
the following week. This served to remind the Israelites
of the hurried preparations made the night they left
Egypt when Pharaoh finally allowed them to go.
When the Israelites were in their own
land a special ceremony was held at the end of the week
after Passover. This was the ceremony of the Firstfruits
when the first sheaf of the barley harvest was presented
The main harvest festival, however, came
fifty days later. It was the Feast of Weeks and
it was a time of great rejoicing and thanksgiving for
God's gifts at harvest. It later came to be known as
Pentecost from the Greek word for 'fiftieth'
and it was during that festival, after Jesus had ascended
into heaven, that the disciples were given special powers
to perform miracles and to heal people.
The beginning of every festival was signalled
by a blast of trumpets but on the first day of the seventh
month the trumpets were sounded for a very special celebration.
The Feast of Trumpets was a very solemn day of
rest and worship and it later became known as Rosh Hashanah
- the New Year festival.
The most popular and joyful of all the
celebrations, however, was the Feast of Tabernacles,
which was held in the autumn after all the fruit crops
had been harvested. The celebrations included camping
out in tents (or 'tabernacles') as a reminder to the
Israelites of the time when they had lived in tents
in the wilderness.
There were other festivals too, including
Hanukkah (Festival of Lights) and Purim,
but although they were times of rejoicing and feasting,
they were primarily times of thanksgiving to God and
occasions to remember outstanding events in the history
of Israel. God wanted His people to have times of rest
and rejoicing, but they were not to be holidays as we
think of them today. No. They were to be 'holy days'.
So, when we have a party or a holiday
let us enjoy it as God would like us to. Let us remember
that it is God who has given us all things and let us
thank Him for all His blessings.
[You can read about the Passover, the
Sabbath and the different feasts in the following Bible
passages: - Exodus