After we come to realize that God's festivals are vitally important to mankind and eminently applicable to our modern world, we should naturally want to learn more about how to observe them.
Where should we celebrate them? Should we keep them at home or in some kind of religious service? What should we do on these days? Does God mind if we do our normal work on these days, or should we reserve them for other purposes? How will the observance of these days affect our families and jobs?
These are all important questions we must consider upon learning about God's festivals. Let's examine some biblical principles we should consider in dealing with these real-life issues.
All different, but all holy
Some of these festivals have designated methods of observance that set them apart from the others. For example, only the Passover involves partaking of bread and wine as symbols of Christ's death. The Days of Unleavened Bread are the only feast days during which God tells us to have no leaven in our homes and to eat no leaven. The Day of Atonement also stands alone as the one Holy Day observed by fasting. Proper observance of these days includes acknowledging their distinctions, each of which are designed to teach us crucial spiritual lessons.
Taken as a whole, however, there are principles that apply to observing all of God's festivals. First, we must remember that these observances are holy to God. They are "the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations," says God (Leviticus 23:2).
God is the only one who can make anything holy. God places these particular days on a plane higher than all humanly devised celebrations. Men and women can dedicate time to God for a special purpose, but God alone can set time aside as holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8, Exodus 20:11). When we exercise proper respect and appreciation for these special annual occasions, we also honor God Himself by acknowledging His authority over our lives. Understanding this principle is important to worshipping God properly.
Our Creator desires that people willingly and in faith follow all of His instructions (Isaiah 66:2). A cooperative, humble attitude stands in contrast to the frame of mind of those who want to do only as little as possible to get by. The heart of the matter is whether we really believe and love God. The apostle John illustrated the attitude God desires when he wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
Commanded assemblies for our benefit
But how does God want us to conduct ourselves on these days? Consider His basic instruction: "These are the Lord's appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times . . ." (Leviticus 23:4, NIV). Other versions of the Bible, such as the King James and New King James, use the phrase "holy convocations," but the meaning is the same. These are special occasions on which we should gather with other believers. As with the weekly Sabbath, God commands special worship services on each of the Holy Days.
God revealed to the early Christians the principle of meeting with -others of like mind on the Sabbaths and Holy Days: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:23-25). What better time to encourage and exhort each other than on the days that depict God's great plan of salvation!
When we assemble at the times of these annual festivals, we allow ourselves a wonderful opportunity to learn more about God's plan of salvation. Nehemiah 8 records a striking instance of God's people gathering to observe the Feast of Trumpets (Nehemiah 8:2). During their religious service, the leaders "helped the people to understand the Law . . . So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:7-8). The early Church continued to keep these yearly feast days according to these same principles, but with much greater spiritual understanding (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
In Nehemiah's day the people needed encouragement because they had neglected God's festivals. "And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.' For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, 'Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'" (Nehemiah 8:9-10). Then, after they were taught God's law, "all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them" (Nehemiah 8:12).
These special days are meant to be enjoyed by the whole family— everyone who attends! Especially at the Feast of Tabernacles, sufficient time is available for proper family activities and recreation, as well as rejoicing over the spiritual knowledge God reveals.
Doing as God says, living by faith
To properly rejoice on God's days of celebration, we are not to do our customary work (Leviticus 23:3, Leviticus 23:7-8, Leviticus 23:21, Leviticus 23:25, Leviticus 23:35-36). Notice that, even though preparing food on the annual Holy Days does entail work, God says that this kind of effort is allowable and appropriate (Exodus 12:16). However, on the Day of Atonement we are to forgo all regular work including, of course, food preparation (Leviticus 23:28, Leviticus 23:30-31).
We also demonstrate our obedience and commitment to God by arranging time off from our jobs so we can observe the Holy Days. With proper planning and respectful communication with employers, most people can work out the details required to be able to take these days off. It is our responsibility to use wisdom and patience when informing family members of our decision to observe God's festivals.
Responding to God's instruction is a matter of faith. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We walk by faith, not by sight." It is, therefore, important for us to start keeping the Holy Days when we learn about them. Even though we may not understand everything at first, we will learn a great deal more as we actually begin observing them (compare Psalm 111:10).
If you would like to learn more about observing the annual festivals, please contact our office for your country or region listed in the back of this booklet. If you so desire, we would be glad to forward your request to a minister near you. He can let you know the times and locations of annual Holy Day and weekly Sabbath services nearest you.
In summary, the annual feast days are a time of happiness, not just because of their meaning for us, but because of the marvelous hope they promise for all mankind. Observing the Holy Days reminds us of God's great love for humanity. Worshipping God in this way is a joy and pleasure. These festivals truly are wonderful gifts from God to His people!