The Effective Church Communication Calendar has a section of Jewish holidays and these are included as a communication and teaching tool for the 5 reasons that follow. We don't celebrate them in the same way our Jewish neighbors do because we realize all of them are fulfilled in Jesus, as this passage reminds us, but at the same time, they have value as the reasons that follow show. Each of these reasons provides opportunities for Christian communicators to make the most of the holiday. After listing the reasons for studying and celebrating, there are links to more resources both from Jewish sources and from Christian sources.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Col. 2:16-17.
Reason #1: The Jewish holidays help us get to know Jesus better
These are the holidays Jesus celebrated. Much has been written about the value of understanding the Jewish background of our Lord (one of the best is Phillip Yancy's, The Jesus I Never Knew), but beyond its usefulness as an academic exercise, when you love someone, you want to understand them. You want to know what was special to them as a child, you want to know what traditions were part of their upbringing.
As we study the Jewish holidays it can help us get to know better our Savior and Lord, our friend throughout all eternity.
Reason #2: The Jewish holidays give us an opportunity to teach Biblical history
Many of the Jewish holidays are associated with specific acts of God on behalf of His people. The best known example is the Passover which commemorates God's deliverance of His people from Egypt. In the New Testament, the Passover was the last meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples before he was crucified.
As we study the Passover, we can see God's preparation for the Jesus' final deliverance sins for those who accept His sacrifice on the cross. When you study the Passover you will get a clearer understanding of how God prepared the Jewish people over the centuries for the coming of his Son.
Another less known example is the festival of Purim which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from the murderous plot of Haman by Queen Esther. This holiday provides a wonderful teaching time that shows us how God is sovereign over politics, wars, and the people that can make us afraid.
Reason #3: The Jewish holidays help explain Biblical theology
Some time ago a young woman was sharing with me why she didn't read the Old Testament and she was especially hard on the book of Leviticus—"Who wants to read that?" she asked me.
I told her that though I understood that it could be tough going getting through the requirements and the sacrifices, it is worthwhile reading because you gain so much from it for background understanding that is helpful when you read the gospel stories about Jesus.
For example, when read in Leviticus how it was commanded that day after day, for centuries an innocent lamb was killed as a sacrifice that could only cover, but never totally remove sin, it is much more meaningful when you read about Jesus coming to meet John the Baptist and why John exclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!" Without the history behind his statement, you won't understand the impact his words had on his audience.
Reason #4: It helps you to understand what is important to your Jewish friends and to act appropriately
As I was researching the Jewish holidays to put the list on the ECC website, I found one site that asked Christians, "What would you think if your boss at work scheduled something for Christmas Day and expected you to work? Or Easter?"
Christians would consider than an insult to the most important days of our faith and would think the boss totally insensitive. But the author went on, many people totally ignore the Jewish High Holy Days, particularly Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These are days when Jews have many religious requirements, among them to not work, and to not be aware of the requirements and to not allow workers to take the day off, to schedule another event they were required to attend, or to completely ignore the holiday is extremely insensitive.
Note: this same principle applies to the month of Ramadan for Muslim friends. Observant Muslims neither eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. It is important to remember this when for example, you might have a children's birthday party and invite your Muslim neighbors over for afternoon cake and ice cream. If this took place during Ramadan, what you meant as a gesture of friendship could be seen as an insensitive insult. For more about Ramadan, go to the links below:
Reason #5: It's an opportunity to share your faith in Jesus
All the Jewish holidays point towards and have their fulfillment in Jesus as the above verses in Colossians remind us. Though we don't celebrate it for the same reasons it was celebrated for Jesus came, many Christian churches celebrate a Passover. Doing it can be a great outreach time to invite unchurched friends and not only do a historically appropriate and honoring Passover—but to take the time to teach about how it was fulfilled in Jesus. Our world today loves images and celebrating Passover in this way can be a profound multi-media teaching opportunity.
In addition to specific celebrations, if you do them at church or in your family, as part of your everyday conversation, you could share what you learned, or what you've taught your children from participating in these holidays. They could be the start of a conversation of how these holidays point to Jesus, of how God taught His people through the ages and many related Biblical topics.
Additional sites for more information on individual Jewish holidays
The following three sites are Jewish sites and contain excellent additional background, history and material to help you understand contemporary celebration of the holidays. Each one of them has links to the specific holidays.
The following site is a Christian site that has extensive ideas on how use the holidays as a teaching tool.
In addition you can go to the page at the link below for a free download of an excerpt of a book on Biblical holidays that includes an overview of many of them and reasons why celebrate them. It also thoughtfully answers concerns that some people might have that perhaps Christians should not celebrate Jewish holidays. Much of the focus of the book is on the teaching value of the holidays for children.