The author of the following article was challenged regarding the origin of festivals such as Christmas and Easter which history clearly shows were inventions of the established church based in Rome around the 4th century AD.
In our society there are those who are genuinely seeking the truth or a church that is teaching the true beliefs of the Bible. When I was a teenager I can honestly say that I wasn’t one of those. At that time I did, however, run across a church and a magazine they published that challenged most of what I thought I knew about the Bible.
I was challenged regarding the origin of festivals such as Christmas and Easter which history clearly shows were inventions of the established church based in Rome around the 4th century AD. These festivals were a blend of pre-existing pagan festivals with a Christian veneer in order to attract more followers into the early church. I found this corroborated by reputable encyclopaedias.
Given their late establishment, this obviously meant that neither Jesus nor any of the apostles kept Christmas and Easter. If so, then what days did they keep as festivals? I learned, through a booklet put out by this church, about a series of seven festivals outlined in the Old Testament in Leviticus 23 which are generally recognised as Jewish festivals, the best known of which are probably Passover and Pentecost.
The Jews kept these days in memory of special national events such as their deliverance from Egypt and as harvest festivals in gratitude for the food that God provided for them each year. The booklet published by this church showed in the New Testament that these festivals took on new meanings which focused on the plan of salvation that God has for all mankind.
Notice what The Encyclopaedia Britannica says about the early New Testament church: "The sanctity of special times [referring to festivals such as Easter and Christmas] was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians... [who] continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed" (vol. 8, p. 828, 11th edition).
The new spiritual meaning for these festivals is best demonstrated by the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church which had a large number of non-Jewish Greeks. To these Gentiles, along with the Jews, he wrote: “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) (emphasis added).
Most people are familiar with the story in the Book of Exodus of Israel killing a lamb and putting its blood on the lintel and doorposts so their house would be protected and “passed over” by the death angel. Paul here says that this looked forward to Jesus Christ’s shed blood covering our sins so we can be “passed over” from the penalty of death.
Paul then speaks of the second festival in Leviticus 23 straight after Passover – the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the plainest words possible to both Jews and Gentiles in the church at Corinth he wrote: “Let us keep the feast” – that is, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
I found this evidence very compelling when I was learning about the annual festivals God established for us to keep. I did share what I was learning at this time with a school friend who, surprisingly, also had an interest in religion. He followed a well-known evangelical televangelist at the time who kept to most mainstream Christian beliefs including keeping Christmas and Easter. My school friend did his best to persuade me to reject the views of the church from which I learned the truth about God’s annual festivals.
One scripture used in the effort to persuade me to reject those biblical holy days was Colossians 2:16 which says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath day.”
The implication made by this argument is that the apostle Paul was admonishing the Colossian church for observing holy days and the weekly Sabbath – that is, don’t allow anyone to accuse or judge you for keeping days which are now obsolete. Is this what Paul really meant? Or is this view taking this verse out of context?
The United Church of God booklet God’s Holy Day Plan (see link below) explains this passage this way:
Paul warned the Colossians to ‘beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (verse 8)....
Gnostics claimed to be so spiritual that they disdained virtually everything physical, regarding it as beneath them. The false teachers in Colosse rejected the physical — the perishable things that could be touched, tasted or handled (verses 21-22)....
The heretics condemned the Colossian church for the manner in which the Colossians observed the Holy Days. Notice that they didn’t challenge the days themselves. It was the physical enjoyment of them — rejoicing and feasting — that provoked the objections of these false teachers... Paul was telling the Colossians to ignore these heretics’ judgments and criticisms about their enjoyment of the eating and drinking aspects of God’s festivals (p.61).
One further point Paul makes about these days is in the next verse. Verse 17 says: “which are a shadow of things to come.” How can these holy days be now obsolete through Christ’s sacrifice if what they picture hasn’t happened yet? They are a “shadow of things to come.”
The Sabbath celebrates the creation in Genesis 1 and the day on which God rested but it also looks forward to the millennium following the second coming of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:1-11).
The early festivals of Passover to Pentecost celebrate events in God’s plan which have already occurred (the crucifixion and the birth of the New Testament church). The last four festivals (kept each year around September and October) celebrate “things to come” – the return of Jesus Christ and the greater harvest of souls to occur after Christ’s return.
The irony of celebrating events yet future really struck me when a co-worker asked me about the meaning of one of these days and as I was explaining how strange it must sound that I was celebrating something that was yet to happen.
These festivals have wonderful meaning and are a great joy to keep. They are eagerly looked forward to by members of the United Church of God and will be soon upon us.
If you would like to learn more about them please request or download our booklets Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? and God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. Links are provided below.