With Christmas right around the corner—houses lit with blinking red and green lights, wreaths on doors, and bell ringers in front of every store, I (like any normal, Protestant girl) am thinking about the Passover. Okay, maybe that’s not necessarily a natural connection, but stick with me here.
From what I can tell, most every culture has its own unique traditions, music, and history. (They each also seem to have their own version of a dumpling, but I digress…) If you dig into what make these groups distinctive, you also find recurring celebrations.
After a limited amount of internet research mostly consisting of me and my husband looking at pictures and descriptions of obscure festivals and celebrations after I googled the phrase “Obscure Festivals and Celebrations,” I’ve decided these traditions can be put in one or a combination of four categories: 1.) Celebrations for religious reasons, 2.) Celebrations for political/historical reasons, 3.) Celebrations related to nature, 4.) Celebrations as excuses to do stupid stuff.
Take, for instance, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It’s a part of a nine-day festival to honor Saint Fermin who was beheaded for sharing the Gospel in France, but it turned into a justification to risk life and limb by jumping in front of giant bulls being herded to the bullring. If you ask me, things got a little out of hand.
Each festival I read about told a story of people gathering to commemorate a moment or a movement or an ideal. The reasons vary from sacred and very special to “you just had to be there.” (Like the Cheese Rolling Festival in Gloucester, England where locals attempt to win a large wheel of cheese by rolling down a steep hill after it. Many are hospitalized after they reach the bottom. That better be some good cheese.)
The Jewish culture is famous for its festivals and holidays, and why shouldn’t they be? The Old Testament is full of God’s commands to memorialize extraordinary events. There are holidays set aside to seek God’s atonement like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There are holidays such as Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and Hanukah which are meant to remind God’s people to be thankful for His Provision. Then there are holidays designed to commemorate God’s rescue in times of trouble: Purim from the book of Esther or Passover from the book of Exodus.
God gave Moses His very specific instructions for avoiding the punishment which would soon be meted out to all of the Egyptian firstborn sons. God said “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day.” (NLT)
After they had escaped Egypt, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s festival: “…you must explain to your children, ‘I am celebrating what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.’ This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.’” (NLT)
Although celebrating Christmas isn’t a command found in the Bible and we can’t pinpoint the exact date for Jesus’ birth, we are told again and again to remember what the Lord has done for us. The word remember is found more than 250 times in Scripture. God calls us to remember.
So let us remember what God has done for us. He sits at the Seat of Mercy. He’s the Great Provider. He’s our Rescuer. Let’s celebrate His Son!