Christian Viewpoint on Festivals
Adapted from lecture notes from Singapore
Festivals confront Christians at every turn. At home, we observe various
festivities as part of our family traditions. At school and at work, local
festivals may be officially celebrated. Our friends may also invite us to join
in their festivities. But which festivals can Christians participate in and
which ones should we avoid?
Our guide is, of course, the Bible, but before we search the Scriptures
for answers, we need to understand that there are two different types of
festivals: religious and cultural. Religious festivals are held to honor
deities or to perform religiously significant rituals. Cultural festivals
commemorate momentous events or heroes of the community, or celebrate joyous
occasions such as harvest-time and change to benign season (e.g., Memorial Day,
Feasts of the Lord
A look into the Bible reveals that the Israelites too had both religious
and cultural festivals. In the Old Testament, God Himself instituted seven
religious festivals for the Israelites. They are laid down in Leviticus 23 as
the (1) Feast of Passover, (2) Feast of Unleavened Bread, (3) Feast of the Firstfruits, (4) Feast of Pentecost (also called Feast of
and Feast of Weeks),
(5) Feast of Trumpets, (6) Day of Atonement, and (7) Feast of Tabernacles (also
known as Feast of Ingathering).
Christians are not bound to observe them, because they are only a shadow
of the things to come (Col 2:16–17; cf. Heb 10:1). These festivals foreshadowed
the salvation that would be given through Jesus Christ, the downpour of the
Holy Spirit, and Christ's gospel call. All these have been fulfilled through
Jesus Christ, hence we do not need to keep these feasts anymore.
Festivals in Honor of Idols
Moving on to the New Testament, we find that neither Jesus nor the
apostles established any festivals; therefore, Christianity as such has no
festivals. Needless to say, Christians are strictly forbidden from
participating in festivals dedicated to false gods. It is an abomination to
God. In Leviticus 18:3–30, God issued this injunction:
“According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you
shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am
bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. ... Therefore
you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable
customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves
by them: I am the Lord your God.”
Colossians 2:8 warns against being
spoilt by the “tradition of men.” 1 Corinthians 10:18–22 warns against having
“fellowship with demons” and instructs Corinth members that “You cannot drink
the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's
table and of the table of demons.”
The command to Christians to
separate themselves from the practices of other religions receives even
stronger emphasis in 2 Corinthians 6:14–18:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what
fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light
with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a
believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with
idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will
dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My
people." Therefore, "Come out from among them and be separate, says
the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I
will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Paganistic Festivals in
Honor of the True God
However, people love festivals. If God has not provided any and
celebrating a religious festival patently dedicated to a false god is wrong, it
is very tempting to adopt a proscribed but popular religious festival and
celebrate it in honor of the true God. In history, Aaron was the initiator of
such assimilation. When the Israelites grew restless from waiting too long for
Moses to descend from Mount Sinai with God’s laws, they revered a golden calf
idol as the god who rescued them from Egypt. Exodus 32:5–6 records this
innovative and masterful maneuver that would be copied by the apostate church
thousands of years later:
So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a
proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord." Then they rose early on the
next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people
sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Note that he was still faithful to the Lord.
His intention was to honor the Lord;
the entire shenanigan was a “festival to the Lord”!
Only that he adopted a pagan celebratory format. But unlike the apostate
church, he knew of no other form of celebration, for Moses had not yet returned
with God’s blueprint of how the people ought to worship. Nonetheless, God was
“And the Lord said to
Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now
therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may
consume them.” (Ex 32:9–10)
In the face of this threat, Moses interceded forcefully. God relented and
spared the Israelites. Otherwise the entire Hebrew race would have vanished in
the sands of time.
So it is very clear that not only the celebration of paganistic festivals
per se is prohibited; the celebration of paganistic festivals reinterpreted to
honor the true God is also prohibited. This is because God not only detests the
worship of false gods but also people worshipping Him in the way of other
religions. The form or manner of honoring God is important. In Deuteronomy 12:3–4,
“And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and
burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of
their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.”
And in Deuteronomy 12:29–32, He added:
"When the Lord your
God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you
displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not
ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you
do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their
gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every
abomination to the Lord which He
hates they have done to their gods …. Whatever I command you, be careful to
observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."
Jeremiah 10:2 warns, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles….” History has
shown that God does not want His people to honor Him in the way of the Gentiles.
God is to be honored only in the way He Himself has set out. Therefore,
Christians are not allowed to adopt a pagan festival, mask it with a Christian
name, force Christian meanings into its centuries-old customs and celebrations,
and then celebrate it in honor of Christ.
Examples of such adopted festivals are Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.
These festivals have pagan roots. Christmas, for example, originally celebrated
the birthday of the sun god, Easter originated in a festival honoring the deity
of fertility, and Halloween initially honored the god of death and is openly
associated with the works of the devil. Although some of these festivals may be
so ingrained in certain cultures that their original pagan roots are lost, we
cannot and must not have anything to do with these festivals, lest we incur the
wrath of God.
As for cultural festivals, peoples of all races everywhere have their
own. The Jews are no exception. They have two—Purim and Hanukkah.
Purim is celebrated on the thirteenth to fifteenth day of the month Adar
It commemorates the deliverance of the Jews in the Persian Empire wrought by
Esther during the reign of Ahasuerus [probably Xerxes
(486–465 B.C.) but possibly Artaxerxes II (404–359
The name originated from the Hebrew word pur
used in Esther 3:7; 9:24–26 as “lots.” It may also have been derived from the
Assyrian word puru, meaning pebble or
small stone, which would be used for casting lots. Lots are associated with
this festival because Haman, the vizier who masterminded the plot to massacre
all the Jews, cast lots to find an auspicious day, as he was a superstitious
man, to carry out the pogrom.
Hanukkah (also known as the Feast of Dedication) is celebrated beginning
from the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev (December) and lasts for eight
days. It originally celebrated the winter solstice but later commemorated the
dedication (or cleansing) of the temple and altar by Judas Maccabaeus in 164
B.C. following his victories over Antiochus Epiphanes
who had desecrated them for three years.
Hence the name. Hanukkah in Hebrew means “dedication.”
The prominent feature of this festival is the lighting of a candle on
each of the eight nights of festivities. There is neither partial or total
abstention from occupation nor is there any holy convocation at the beginning
or the end.
Both these festivals were actively and widely celebrated in Jesus’ time.
Jesus criticized many practices of the Jews in His time but never once
questioned the propriety of celebrating Purim or Hanukkah. The gospel writer
John mentioned Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, in John 10:22 without adverse
comment. It may be inferred therefore that the celebration of cultural
festivals is permitted.
In the Old Testament, God personally instituted religious festivals for
His chosen people, the Israelites. However, since these were only a shadow of
the things to come through Jesus Christ, we are not obliged to keep them today.
Christianity itself is a religion
without festivals, because Jesus did not institute any. Yet the Lord did not
condemn the celebration of cultural festivals. Hence, it is not wrong to participate in festivals that are not religiously pagan in
However, it is important to realize
that pagan practices permeate every aspect of life—from birth to death.
“Culture” in itself inevitably includes pagan aspects and “cultural” festivals
will likely involve pagan practices. In celebrating these cultural festivals,
we need to abstain from pagan elements and superstition. Inevitably, our
refusal to join in the festivities may raise questions, make us appear boring,
unadjusted, or even extreme and intolerant. Yet we must never compromise our
principles in order to please man. Instead, we ought to remember that our God
is a jealous God, and that He has chosen us to be separate and holy so that we
may glorify and proclaim His name.
For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold
him; There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His
own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out
of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Pet 2:9)