What we commonly refer to as the ‘Jewish feasts’ should more appropriately be called Biblical Feasts. And in the Bible, God calls these festivals simply His own. Just look at how many times that phrase is repeated in a single chapter of Leviticus:
These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. (23:4) These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations. (23:37) You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord… (23:41) So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord. (23:44)
Many of the biblical feasts, as established by God, have been kept by the Jewish people through the centuries. Since Israel became an independent country in 1948, some of the feasts became official holidays in Israel.
God reveals so much of Himself in the biblical celebrations. Jesus said, If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for He wrote of Me (John 5:46).
Christians can freely celebrate these feasts out of a desire to know God’s character.
Biblically, the year begins in Spring. As Passover was approaching, God said to His people: “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:2)
Passover falls on the tenth of this month, called Nissan. It is the first of three pilgrimage holidays – appointed times for all Jews to come to Jerusalem.
It celebrates the exodus of Israelites from Egypt and freedom from bondage.
The Hebrews who believed God to keep them safe were protected from death by the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. It is a clear picture of the sacrifice of Jesus, who saved us through his death on the Cross.
Unleavened Bread is usually identified with Passover as they are closely related, but it deserves to be mentioned separately – as it is in the Bible. In fact, one could say that Passover only happened on the first day, and the remaining seven holy days are actually a Feast of the Unleavened Bread. People are instructed to clean out the yeast out of their homes and only eat bread without leaven, called matza.
In early Summer (or sometimes still in late Spring), all Israel celebrates Shavuot – Feast of Weeks. It is the second pilgrimage holiday and it opens the season of harvest in Israel. Called also the Feast of Weeks, it is celebrated after seven weeks since Passover.
The 50 days is also the reason why it is called Pentecost, meaning fifty in Greek and Latin. On Shavuot, God gave Moses and the people of Israel His law. Millenia later, on this day God poured out His Spirit on the people celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem.
Summer is also a season when the Jewish people commemorate the destruction of the Temple. The day is called Tisha B’Av and it is a day of mourning and fasting.
Fall is the most festive season of the year for the Jewish people.
The Feast of Trumpets is commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year. Better known as Rosh HaShanah, meaning Head of the Year, it points to the beginning of the civil calendar in Israel. However biblically, it was a solemn day with trumpet blasts reminding people to reflect on their lives and repent.
Nevertheless, the Jewish tradition on Rosh HaShanah is to dip apples in honey, wishing everyone a good and sweet new year. Feast of Trumpets begins the High Holidays, also called the Days of Awe, that lead up to the Day of Atonement.
Day of Atonement in Hebrew is called Yom Kippur. It is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. It is a complete day of fasting and in Israel everything comes to a full stop, including airports and traffic.
Many spend the day on intensive prayer, since the Bible instructs to ask for forgiveness.
This day reminds us what a gift we have in Jesus, who became the ultimate atonement for our sins.
The joyous Feast of Tabernacles is the third (out of three) pilgrimage holidays. It is both commemorative and prophetic in its meaning. Called Sukkot in Hebrew (booths), it points to the commandment of God to stay in temporary dwellings for a week, to remember the Hebrews’ journey through the desert. Moreover, it reminds us that our life on earth is also a temporary dwelling.
As the year concludes in Winter, there are more holidays to be observed at this time of the year. However, the following two festivals are not included in what the Torah describes as the Feasts of the Lord.
The Festival of Light called Chanukah and the holiday of Purim are times when the Jewish people celebrate God saving them from the hands of their enemies.
Chanukah is known as the Festival of Light thanks to the tradition of lighting candles every evening for eight days. Commemorating a victory of the Jewish people over their Greek oppressor, the holiday also celebrates a sanctification of the Temple.
By God’s miracle, the menorah (a candelabra in the Temple) burned for eight days, despite having oil only enough to last a day. The holiday usually falls around the Christmas season in the Gregorian Calendar.
Purim is a celebration of another victory of the Jewish people over their enemies, similarly to Chanukah. The Book of Esther tells the story of how an orphan made Queen together with her wise cousin unravel an evil plot orchestrated against their own people.
They take a stand in face of adversity and their courage is celebrated at Purim.
Purim is observed in the last month of the Hebrew Calendar (Adar), which leads us back into spring.