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Ed Jordan: What is a Holiday?

Posted: 11/17/17 at 7:00am. Column by Ed Jordan.

The holidays are upon us! We are approaching three of America’s favorite holidays, namely Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Generally we think of these as times of getting together with our families or friends, sharing delicious meals, and relaxing. For many it is a time to also turn our attention towards God, and indeed this is something that often escapes our notice.

The word holiday in modern English comes from the old English word “haligdaeg.” This is a compound word of halig, meaning holy, and daeg, meaning day. So originally, anything called a holiday was a day that was holy. The biblical use of the word holy generally means that something is special, superior, and divine—different from others.

When referring to God, it indicates his awesomeness, power, mystery, and how God is totally different from creatures. He is high and lifted up. We see this image in Isaiah 6:1-3 where Isaiah saw a vision of God’s presence filling the heavenly temple, spilling out so that his special, unique goodness filled the whole earth. Where God manifested himself to humans was called “holy ground,” made holy because holy God was present there. A holy day was a time to interact with holy God. It was set apart to focus upon God and express our gratitude to him for all his unbelievable goodness towards us. It is God’s presence which makes something “holy.”

Does the concept of a holiday being a “holy day” dampen the festivities? No way! God is the source of joy! God is the source of love! God is the source of thankfulness, of kindness, of goodness, and of generosity. Whenever God is present, there is joy.

Whenever God is present, there is joy.

Think about how we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We watch football games, eat our meal with family and friends, and eat and eat more. I love that, don’t you? It is part of the day. However if that is all we do, why call it Thanksgiving Day? What are we celebrating? For what are we thankful? To whom do we attribute all the good things that we have? Did they all come from a turkey and pumpkin pie? What makes such a day special, separate, or different?

Thanksgiving Day was originally set aside to give thanks to God for the bounty he has provided for us, for the wonderful country he has given to us, for our homes, and for our family and friends. How would our Thanksgiving be different if we asked each person present to seriously say one thing that they are thankful to God for today, and go around the table with each person then understanding that we have a lot for which to be thankful? It would only take a few minutes, but it would make Thanksgiving truly a day when we each give thanks to God.

Christmas is a day filled with giving and receiving—with suspense and surprise. It is also a day of good food and sharing the day with family. Again, all of these are good things and are appropriate. But what then makes Christmas a holiday—a holy day?

It is taking the time to focus upon God and on the great gift that God gave to us that first Christmas. What if you went to great expense and effort to throw a birthday party for your son, and invited all his friends, family, and the neighbors to come and celebrate, and when the people came into the house they ignored you and your son? They just came, ate the food and cake, and talked to each other, but ignored you and your son like you didn’t exist? It would hurt, wouldn’t it?

Christmas is a time to take a few minutes, to read the Christmas story in Luke 1:26-38, or Luke 2:1-20, and to talk about what happened that first Christmas. Say a word of thanks to God for sending Jesus to save us. Take a moment to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in the room with you, and express to him why you are happy that he was born.

Giving five or ten minutes together as a family to acknowledge God’s presence with you at your holiday celebration changes it from a holiday to a holy day. It changes the focus from being upon us to being upon God, who is the source of all good things, all goodness, and all joy and reasons to celebrate.

May you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, celebrating with God who made you, the world, and all the good things you enjoy!

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.