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One of the most common criticisms of the Messianic lifestyle is our rejection of Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. “After all,” they ask, “if the holidays are about Jesus, how could they be bad?”
Although well-meaning Christians can find deep fulfillment in celebrating holidays like Christmas and Easter, we choose to honor and celebrate the holy appointed times that G-d designed and gave to us in the Torah. Interestingly enough, Yeshua’s life and ministry involved the biblical holy days in some remarkable ways.
There are myriad opinions regarding the timing of the birth of Yeshua. Although we can’t prove it with 100% certainty, there is significant evidence pointing to the idea that he was born during Sukkot. Thematically, this would make sense since Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles and Yeshua is said to have “tabernacled” with us. D. Thomas Lancaster of FFOZ* wrote an excellent summary of these evidences which you can read here.
Be blessed and chag sukkot sameach!
*Beth Sar Shalom does not necessarily endorse or agree with all theological positions held by FFOZ.
On the eighth day hold an assembly and do no regular work.
Bemidbar (Numbers) 29:35
Tishrei is a special month in the Biblical calendar due to the number of Holy Days observed.
The first day of the month, which the world calls Rosh Hashanah, the so-called Jewish New Year, is really the Festival of the Sounding of the Shofar.Yom Teruah marks the beginning of a time of spiritual introspection and community reconciliation culminating in Yom Kippur. Five days afterwards is the seven-day long, Sukkot. Immediately following the seventh day of Sukkot is another holy day, called in Hebrew Shemini Atzeret, which simply means the “Assembly of the eight (day).”
Shemini Atzeret coincides with the completion and recommencing of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah. A special celebration, called “Simchat Torah” (Joy of the Torah) is observed. In the Land of Israel Simchat Torah is observed on Shemini Atzeret. Outside of the Land of Israel where certain holy days are doubled, Simchat Torah is observed on the second day of Shemini Atzeret.
If all these special days seems like a lot to you, it’s because one half of this whole Biblical month is given over to a special focus on G-d. Fulfilling all these observances would mean major changes to our normal schedule. In Bible times, celebrating Sukkot meant taking your whole family to Jerusalem for the week.
But I think G-d knows that our normal schedules need upsetting.
In our fast paced society, it seems that we have a lot of difficulty breaking our normal routine to give G-d this kind of attention, but I don’t think we need it any less than the people of ancient times.
Those of us who do take time for G-d often approach him as we do many other things we do. We slot him in somewhere. We spend time with G-d just like any other meeting, rarely taking time to linger in his presence, not to mention setting apart several days just to focus on Him.
When G-d provided His people with His yearly calendar, He directed us to give over to Him large amounts of time. Besides the weekly Sabbath, there are festivals throughout the year. Once a year there would be these two weeks, which includes even more intense time with Him.
Those who know Yeshua but believe the L-rd has “released” His people from Torah may think that we are “free” from such observances. But if the people back then needed this kind of time with G-d, how much more should we want to have intense and prolonged times with him now?
If we know the love of G-d in Yeshua should we not want to spend more time with him, not less?
The epistles of 1 and 2 Peter (Kefa) contain priceless wisdom for the maturing believer in Messiah Yeshua. Below is a collection of messages from Derek Blumenthal comprising a verse-by-verse study of the two letters.
Shavuot is one of the Shlosh Regalim, or Three Festivals. In times when the Holy Temple still stood in Jerusalem, the Israelites made pilgrimage to the Temple for these three holidays. In those times the traditions of the holidays were somewhat similar.
“We have a question for Beth Sar Shalom. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
This question is posed to us at BSS somewhat regularly, as to be expected.The following is an explanation of our position on Christmas in the life of a Messianic believer.
Christmas is, without question, a very sensitive subject for many Believers—and I would emphasize understanding between those who do not celebrate it, and those who celebrate it in ignorance. We cannot find in Scripture where God mandates that we observe a holiday with decorated trees, mistletoe, holly, Santa Claus, and presents.
On the contrary, the Prophet Jeremiah tells us that we are to not be as the heathen who adorn trees:
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them; for the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers so that it will not totter’” Jeremiah 10:2-4.
This same concept is reemphasized for us in Deuteronomy 16:21: “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself.”
We do not celebrate Christmas, nor do we endorse a “substitute” for it, either. We do not believe that the celebration of Christmas was God’s original intention. There is much more that can be said about the anti-biblical/anti-Jewish origins of Christmas, however, they fall outside of the scope of this explanation.
Christmas today is highly commercialized and is often more about self-indulgence than anything else. Of course, we are not against “giving gifts,” but the purpose of Christmas today for many people, including Believers, is about self rather than about seeing the Messiah lifted up.
We do not celebrate Christmas. But, we are not against people remembering the birth of Yeshua, either, although it probably did not occur during the Winter. The birth of Messiah Yeshua is a part of the Bible that is to be remembered and taught upon, something appropriate for any time of year (we do so during Sukkot, making the connection between the sukkah and the Gospel declaration that Messiah came to “tabernacle” with us). So with this in mind, it is important to remember that at “Christmas time,” people are relatively open to talking about Yeshua and the gospel, and many are presented to Him who would normally not be during the rest of the year. Obviously, in spite of the questionable origins of December 25.
Without question, this issue will continue to baffle many Messianic Believers in years to come, as we learn to properly deal with those who celebrate Christmas in ignorance, not knowing where it comes from. As a faith community we will need to change all the “Christmas is pagan!” rhetoric to something less sensationalistic, yet still be able to properly communicate that we do not celebrate it. We also must emphasize understanding and fairness for others in this area. Christmas as it is known today is not a Biblical, and on this basis we do not celebrate it.
We usually think of Thanksgiving as a secular American holiday based on the story of the Pilgrims. But if you take another look, you can find some Biblical ways to see, enhance and enjoy this wonderful holiday.
We all learned the story about the Pilgrims in school, that these were Christian people who fled to the New World to establish a new life for themselves. Things were difficult for them in this country and they suffered greatly. But they did take a timeout from their struggling lives to have a feast and say thank you to God. The rest is history. And now we get Thursday and Friday off every year, the postal service stops delivery and we pig out…let me make that kosher: we eat a big meal!
What does this have to do with Biblical Judaism? On the surface, not too much.
But, if you look just a little beneath the surface, it is easy to find a Biblical connection. Were the Pilgrims Hebrews (Jewish)? Of course not, but they were spiritual people (often called Puritans for their effort to return to a pure Bible faith). They were very aware of the Hebrew Bible and kept all of the Biblical Holy Days as part of their faith.
In the fall of the year, at the end of the harvest season is the feast of Sukkot (English: Tabernacles). This thanksgiving to God for his provision was a part of the lives of these believers. I believe this is what has been passed down to us today that is called Thanksgiving.
Consider this: the Holy Days as described in our Bible are really thanksgiving holidays: Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, Hanukkah, Purim and so on. The Biblical calendar is full of these Holidays (Holy Days). They are structured ways to reinforce the belief in the one true God.
Going beyond that, the Bible tells us to be constantly thankful–on a daily and hourly basis. That is one of the reasons we have a blessing for everything. Many blessings are really prayers of thanksgiving and we have a blessing for almost anything you can imagine: eating, getting up in the morning, seeing something beautiful in nature, encountering a smart person, everything! I have always loved the example of how we have a blessing for everything found in the play Fiddler on the Roof. When the village of Anatevka’s Rabbi is asked if there is even a blessing for the wicked and anti-Semitic Czar, the Rabbi replies: “May the Lord bless and keep the Czar… far away from us!”
Dr. Ben R. Alpert
On the first night share the story of Chanukah and of G-d’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His people during the critical days of the Maccabean revolt. Help your family grasp the continuing importance of rededication and renewal in the lives of those who love G-d.
The shamash or servant candle my now be lit, and with it, the first candle. (On each succeeding night, the servant’s candle will be lit first, and then used to light the others- on the first night, the first candle, on the second night, the first and second, and so on.)
This remarkable season invites all believers to focus on Yeshua as the Light of the World. The following devotions – one for each night of Chanukah – are designed for use during special family times… to initiate discussions that will lead you to a greater understanding of the Good news of the Messiah.
*The shamash, the servant candle of the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah), “serves” by lighting the rest of the candles.
The Servant Candle
“…but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”
Read: Matthew 20:26
It is in keeping with the teachings of the Messiah that the ninth candle – the Shamash – should be lit first, with a match, and then used to light all the others. Yeshua (Jesus) repeatedly told His disciples He had come as a servant, and even in the last hours of His life, He took the role of servant to minister to these, His friends and followers (John 13:1-5). He thus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament (Isaiah 53) and set an example for us that we should follow (John 13:14).
Let us commit ourselves, during these holy days, to a new spirit of selfless service…sharing the light of salvation with each life we touch.
The One True G-d
“Hear; O Israel: the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one!”
Read: Deuteronomy 6:4-5
The Shema (“hear”) is the most important Scripture in the First Covenant – the proclamation of the unique Person of G-d. Because He is the only G-d, He wants, requires, and deserves the first place in every area of our lives. The singular character and single redemptive purpose of the Holy G-d should bring us to worship Him in all that we do, and to commit our lives to Him.
“…that they may be one just as We are one…”
Read: John 17:20-26
Yeshua’s’ great prayer in the Garden on the eve of His death was an aching cry of His heart for the unity of G-d and man. The bringing together of a Holy G-d and sinful mankind was the redemptive purpose for which the Messiah came…and for which He died. It is the purpose for which we, too, live and die… that the Messiah might use us to awaken a lost world – and especially His chosen people – to their need to be reconciled with G-d.
“…one G-d and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Read: Matthew 3:13-17, Ephesians 4:1-6
G-d is tri-unity – three expressions of one unique, dynamic character. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter… Father, Son and Spirit. The Lord is One-and yet, through the great mystery of these three Holy expressions, He ministers truth and grace and power to those who have given their lives to Him. He calls us, too, to be holy and complete…uniting spirit, soul and body to love and serve Him.
(I Thessalonians 5:23)
“…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of G-d.”
Read: Romans 3:21-26
The light of salvation, as seen through Yeshua, the Light of the World, has meaning only for those who realize that they are lost in darkness. Each of us must come to terms with the fact that we have betrayed G-d…through things we have done but shouldn’t have, and through things we should have done, but didn’t.
Our betrayal of what we know to be right has left us in spiritual darkness… and yearning for the light that will show us the way back to “the Father of lights” (James 1:17). The Messiah came to be that light, and He invites us to live in that light, too. Those who refuse – who choose to continue in darkness and confusion – are doomed to destruction.
The Grace of G-d
“For by grace have you been saved by faith and that not of yourselves…”
Read: Ephesians 2:8-9
The value of a gift is measured in many ways – by how much it costs…by how personal it is… by how much love went into the giving…by the feelings that gift stirs in our hearts.
G-d’s gift of salvation to us is inexpressibly precious. It cost G-d His only Son…and Yeshua His life. It offers to each of us a unique and personal relationship with God Himself… a gift offered through His unimaginable love. Recognizing and accepting that gift is a deeply humbling experience – one that should bring us to G-d in worship, and then to our feet with an eager desire to share it.
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!”
Read: Psalm 8, Genesis 2
G-d created man on the sixth day, “in His own image”. This was the culmination of the fantastic creation of all nature – plants and animals, mountains and seas, skies and planets, and the deep places of the earth. G-d invested this final creation with a semblance of His own nature… and the unique capacity to relate consciously, deliberately to Him in faith and love. He breathed into us “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7) – and the capacity to choose our own eternal destiny.
As you pray tonight, praise G-d for the glory of His creation…for some special aspect of nature that is particularly precious to you. And ask Him to grant you the wisdom to choose wisely as you live for Him.
Completion and Rest
“He rested from all His work which G-d had created and made.”
Read: Genesis 2
In the Bible, seven is a number for completion – for G-d’s finishing touch on His magnificent work of creation. After the work, G-d rested… and it is good to know, in these days of high stress and seemingly endless activity, that He expects us to rest too, “…for He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). In the power of Yeshua, He gives us the strength to accomplish all the tasks He sets before us – and the command, on the Sabbath, to take a break.
A New Beginning
“… if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation…”
Read: II Corinthians 5: 12-21
Through the grace of G-d, endings are always beginnings for believers. The end of sin is the beginning of righteousness… the end of guilt is the beginning of freedom …the end of fear is the beginning of love. Yeshua asks us to let our lives end – to lay to rest our will to do what we want, when we want, the way we want – so that His will can begin new within us. In exchange, He promises an ultimate end to all that has meant frustration and fear and dissatisfaction … and a new birth of hope, of faith, of love in our hearts.
As you pray tonight, in the glow of all the candles of the chanukiah, dedicate yourself anew to Yeshua. Place in His scarred hands the joys and troubles and memories of the past – and let Him give you the promise and the possibilities, and the power of His presence in the new days ahead.
MESSIANIC CHANUKAH SERVICE
The following is a suggested order of service to use during the upcoming nights of Chanukah:
- First, set the candles ready to be lit. The shamash (servant) light should always be highest or offset in some way. Always put the candles in on the right-hand side of the menorah. Light the candles starting on the left-hand side. The first night there should be one candle plus the shamash, the second night two candles plus the shamash, etc.
- Light the Shamash (Servant) candle saying, “Yeshua said, ‘I am the light of the world!
- With the Shamash burning recite (all together): Blessed are you Adonai our G-d, king of the universe, Who has sanctified us by His commandments, and commanded us to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works (mitzvot), and glorify our Father
in Heaven. Blessed are you, Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, who has performed miracles for our people in those days at this time.
- On the first night add: Blessed are you, Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for helping us to reach this season of celebration.
- Then, light the candle(s) with the Shamash candle.
- With the candles burning have individual family members read the following verses designated for each night of the festival:
- Night 1: …G-d said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. [Gen. 1:1-5]
- Night 2: The L-rd is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. [Ps.27: 1] Arise! Shine! For your light has come! The glory of the L-rd rises upon you! House of Yaakov (Jacob), come and let us
walk in the light of the L-rd! [Isa. 60:1; 2:5]
- Night 3: Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path. The precepts of the L-rd are right, giving joy to the heart (mind); the command of the L-rd is radiant, giving light to the eyes. [Ps. 119:105; 19:9]
- Night 4: I, the L-rd, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the nations. [Isa. 42:5]
Light is shed upon the righteous; and joy on the upright of heart. [Ps. 97:11-12]
- Night 5: You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before people, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. [Mt. 5:14-16] For the path of the righteous is
as the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until full day. [Prov. 4:18]
- Night 6: Send forth Your light and your truth; they will guide me; they will bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. [Ps.43: 3] For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and corrections of discipline are the way of life. [Prov. 6:23]
- Night 7: For with You is the fountain of life; by Your light do we see light. [Ps. 36:9] For You, the L-rd, make my lamp burn; my G-d lights up my darkness. [Ps. 18:28] Every good giving and every
perfect gift is coming down from the Father of light, with whom has no place of change or shadow of turning. [James 1:17-18]
- Night 8: See, G-d does all these things to man…. to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him. [Iyov (Job) 33:29-30] No longer shall you need the sun…. for the L-rd
shall be your everlasting light, and your G-d will be your glory… [Is. 60:19-20]…. the city did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of G-d and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it…” [Rev. 21:22-27]
- Sing Chanukah songs or other songs celebrating the Light of the world.
- Finally, eat potato latkes and doughnuts, play games, enjoy your fellowship in our Messiah!
Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Catholic feast of All Hallows (or All Saints) and the day initiating the triduum of Hallowmas. (See also Michaelmas and Christmas).
According to most scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a syncretized pagan feast originally influenced by western European harvest festivals, and festivals of the dead with pagan roots, particularly the Celtic Samhain.
Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as “guising”), attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.
Though the origin of the word Halloween is Catholic, the holiday has pagan roots. Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain”, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”. Samhain was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) calendar. It was held on or about October 31 – November 1 and similar festivals were held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Brythonic Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany). It marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year.
Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a time when the ‘door’ to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings such as fairies, to come into our world. The souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes on Samhain. Lewis Spence described it as a “feast of the dead” and “festival of the fairies”. However, harmful spirits and fairies were also thought to be active at Samhain.
People took steps to ward-off these harmful spirits/fairies, which is thought to have influenced today’s Halloween customs. The practice of lighting bonfires during Hallowmas may have been a synchronized one with Catholicism, as the Celts lit bonfires during Samhain as well.
Snap-Apple Night (1832) by Daniel Maclise depicts apple bobbing and divination games at a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland.
Halloween falls on the evening before the Catholic holy days of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’, Hallowmas or Hallowtide) on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, thus giving the holiday on October 31st the full name of All Hallows’ Eve. They are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who had yet to reach Heaven. All Saints was introduced in the year 609, but was originally celebrated on May 13. In 835, it was switched to November 1 (the same date as Samhain) at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. Some have suggested this was due to Celtic influence, while others suggest it was a Germanic idea.
By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory. “Souling”, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for “all crysten christened souls”, (hot cross buns) has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door on All Saints/All Souls collecting soul cakes, originally as a means of praying for souls in purgatory. Similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas.” The custom of wearing costumes has been linked to All Saints/All Souls by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities”.
In Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers explained Halloween jack-o’-lanterns as originally being representations of souls in purgatory. In Britain children would set candles in skulls in graveyards.
In Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants berated purgatory as a “popish” doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination. The rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, saw many Halloween traditions appropriated by that holiday instead, and Halloween’s popularity waned in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland. There and in Ireland, the rebellious Guy Fawkes was not viewed with the same criminality as in England, and they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since at least the early Middle Ages, and the Scottish kirk took a more pragmatic approach to Halloween, seeing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country.
North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Halloween, and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in earnest. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is both much softer and much larger – making it easier to carve than a turnip. Subsequently, the mass marketing of various size pumpkins in autumn, in both the corporate and local markets, has made pumpkins universally available for this purpose. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.
The modern imagery of Halloween comes from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula) and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy). One of the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne, who, in 1780, made note of pranks at Halloween; “What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, as well as the supernatural associated with the night, “Bogies” (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns’ Halloween 1785. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, and mythical monsters. Black, orange, and sometimes purple are Halloween’s traditional colors.
Halloween has been “cleaned up” to one degree or another and presented as “harvest festivals” in evangelical Churches. However, as Messianic believers, we strive to live lives in reverence and obedience to Torah under the example of Messiah Yeshua. These “holiday” practices are a far cry from the culture of the Scriptures and should have no place in our families or congregations.