I don’t want to be “that guy,” but the holiday season is just about here. Yes, I’m referring to that stretch of celebrations from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. For a lot of folks, the holiday season begins a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, with all the preparations – shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. – and continues a few weeks into the new year with all the recovery – shopping, dieting, cleaning, etc.
While many people bemoan the blurring of one holiday into the next, our behavior seems to indicate that we are willing to accommodate it, if we haven’t fully embraced it. Even if we bristle at Christmas advertisements and decorations popping up before Halloween, how many of us have already started shopping for gifts? As a last-minute shopper myself, I would hardly criticize anyone for being proactive, especially considering the busyness of the season; however, even my own procrastination seems to indicate that I’ve accepted the blending, allowing these special observances to dissolve into everyday life so that they just “sneak up” on me.
That piques my concern. With all the anticipation we have and preparations we make, how is it possible for special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas to become surprises? I suppose if I’m being honest, I’m just not paying attention, and that undermines the value of holidays.
Forgive me if this is overly simplistic, but holidays are “holy days.” After nearly a year of my preaching, teaching, and writing about holiness, we ought to understand, then, that a day is holy when it is set apart from other days for a specific purpose, usually to remind us about something or to do something. Obviously, Thanksgiving is a day set apart to remind us of what we have received from God and to prompt us to give thanks for what he has given us; Christmas is a day set apart to remind us of Jesus’ birth and to prompt us to imitate God who gave us his Son.
My point is not to call attention to the specific reasons for the seasons but to elevate the holiness of holidays, the setting apart of special days from the everyday. Now, before we make too much of holidays specifically – that is, before we make them to be more important than, perhaps, they really are – we must remember that it is God who makes anything holy. Just because we have designated a day to be set apart does not make it or the observation of that day to be holy or more important from God’s perspective; in fact, Paul warns the early church that this is a personal matter and should not be divisive:
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. (Romans 14:5, 6; NIV 1984)
However, Paul does seem to give some importance to these holy days simply because we set them apart “to the Lord.”
The holiness of holidays isn’t about the day itself but about the way it is set apart to the Lord. While God has not commanded a day for giving thanks, Thanksgiving can be a holy day among us as we set it apart to praise and honor God, to give him thanks for what he has given us. That we have designated a specific day in November as Thanksgiving Day is by our own free will, but because we have made it a holiday, a holy day, we ought to honor it by focusing our attention on giving thanks to God. While God did not establish Christmas Day, since we have, we ought to honor it by remembering the Good News of Jesus’ birth.
It’s interesting how much attention so many people give to each of these annual holidays that God has not set apart for us to remember and yet how little attention so many people give the day that God has set apart for us to honor each week: the Lord’s Day. If there’s any day that we ought to observe with holiness, it’s the first day of the week. While we have established an annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, God established a weekly remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which we honor in our weekly Sunday gathering and participation in the Lord’s Supper. May we honor God’s holy day with as much thought and preparation and celebration as we give this coming holiday season – or more!