An Outline of Our Calendar and the Biblical Festivals
Calendars are fascinating devices for us to keep track of (number) our days. There are many different calendar systems in this world. In fact, all major cultures have their own calendar to keep track of the seasons (months) based on the sun or the moon. In practice, calendars employ both calculated and observable elements. It turns out that one day, one week, one month, or one year are not exactly that amount of time per the sun and moon, but a calendar can make it seem so.
This calendar is based on the Gentile Gregorian (Pope Gregory) calendar incorporated with the Jewish Diaspora (dispersed people) calendar. We have also modified those calendars to include God’s Appointed Times as given by Moses in the Torah and have synchronized the start of the first of each Hebrew month to the new moon as it would be seen from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. We have done this using lunar phase software that can pinpoint the moon’s position in the sky and the phase of the moon at any time from any latitude/longitude on earth. In ancient times, when the first sliver of the new moon was seen in the evening, the next day was declared to be the first of the month. With modern technology, we can see exactly when that time should be. It is our goal to keep the appointed times of the Lord with all our heart, in the best way that we know how, and at the appropriate times. Our calendar is not perfect, but our hope is that all Messianic believers who use our calendar will learn to keep the Sabbaths and the feasts of Israel in the way that the Lord has impressed upon us to do. When the Lord returns, we will all keep the feasts in the same way and at the same time. Until then, we must follow our hearts and keep the commandments of the Lord the best way that we can.
Something to take note of is the time in which days begin. In the Gentile calendar system the day begins at 12:00 am; however, in the lunar-based Hebrew system the day begins at sundown. For those not accustomed to the Hebrew festivals, when you see those holidays in the calendar, the observance of those days begins at sundown on the previous day.
There are many excellent books and teaching materials to explain the weekly observance of Sabbath and the feasts throughout the year. They can elaborate on why we seem to have two starting points for the year and the observance of the months. Briefly, Tishrei 1 is the head of the year, whereas Nisan 1 is the head of months. The Hebrew year begins in the Fall with Rosh Hashanah (also called Yom Teruah or the Day of Trumpets) whereas, the observance of the annual feasts begins in the spring with Pesach (Passover). The beginning of the year tells the story of how the Messianic Age will begin, whereas the beginning of months tells the story of redemption. There is much to learn about our faith from the calendar and the feasts, and the best way to learn it all is to keep the feasts. Our prayer is that this calendar will help you to achieve that goal.
Following is a brief explanation of the feasts, beginning with Rosh Hashanah. As you will discover, some feasts are commanded and some are traditionally observed.
Feast of Trumpets Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah
Commanded to be kept: The 1st of Tishrei
This feast is traditionally referred to as Jewish New Year. It seems to be in conflict with the spring month of Aviv (Nisan) and the Torah instructions. There is a simple explanation. Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets) is considered to be the beginning date of creation, thus, Rosh Hashanah (head of the year). The instructions in the Torah is for Nisan to be head of the months and the time/date reference for counting the years of a king. Nisan is the starting reference for the story of redemption. Rosh Hashanah is the starting reference for creation.
For Messianics, the Feast of Trumpets represents our future hope for the resurrection. Ask a serious-minded Jewish believer and he will tell you that there is a future resurrection of the dead at a future Feast of Trumpets. Because the Feast of Trumpets comes at the New Moon (all other holidays occur at other times in a month), knowing exactly when it occurs is not possible until the moment comes. Therefore, it said that the Feast of Trumpets is a day that no man knows the hour or the day (Mark 13:32). Yeshua made this same comment when asked when He would gather the dead in the Messiah (resurrection).
There are several distinct trumpet blasts to be made during the Feast of Trumpets. The Tekiah (a short blast) is calling the people to convocation. The Shevarim (three wails – three tekiah together) is a reminder of the cry from the widow and the orphan, which should move us to help. The Teruah (the staccato blast of several short blasts) is a call to war; reminding us of the conflict we are in and not be complacent. The Tekiah HaGadol (the long blast) is the blast of the Lord. This is the blast we expect to hear at the resurrection and warning of the Day of the Lord.
Messianics use shofars extensively throughout the year. They call God’s attention to us and serve as petition for His compassion to once again be turned toward us.
Traditionally, apples with honey are eaten to represent a good and sweet year. Challah bread is formed into a round loaf to represent the cycle of life.
Traditional Judaism adds the 2nd of Tishrei as a second day of the Feast of Trumpets.
Day of Atonement Yom Kippur
Commanded to be kept: The 10th of Tishrei
The Day of Atonement is not a feast at all. It is a day of fasting. This is the day the Lord asks us to afflict our souls and be somber before Him. Prophetically, this represents the coming Day of the Lord, the day when God judges the whole world. We do not feast or rejoice as there is no reason to do so when God must judge our fellow man.
The ten days leading up to Yom Kippur are referred to as the “Days of Awe,” or days of fear. It is said that God’s eyes move to and fro over the earth deciding who shall live and who shall die that year. Isaiah 58 is the traditional teaching asking us whether our fast is acceptable to the Lord.
Traditionally, a break-fast meal is eaten on the eve of the 11th to separate Yom Kippur from any other day or fast.
Feast of Tabernacles Sukkot
Commanded to be kept: The 15th through the 22nd of Tishrei
The Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths or Feast of Ingathering, is a seven day feast with the eighth day called HoShanah Rabbah (the great day of the Feast). Jewish calendars refer to the eighth day as “Shemini Atzeret.” The Hebrew name “sukkot” is the expression for huts, booths, or personal tents. The feast commemorates how our ancestors dwelled in sukkot upon leaving Egypt while traveling through the wilderness before living in the promised land. There is a great message of remembrance. We are instructed in the New Testament to learn the lessons of the wilderness.
The Feast of Tabernacles is also called the season of joy, and we are commanded to rejoice before the Lord. When the temple was in Jerusalem, the people of Israel would gather all about Jerusalem in their sukkot. Great lights were affixed in the court of women in the temple during the night and the largest number of sacrifices were offered during the day. On the last day, a water libation ceremony was observed using water from the pool of Siloam (“he who is sent”). The priest who was sent for the water was led by a priest with a flute (called “the pierced one”). Finally, a priest with a pitcher of wine joins the water pitcher to be simultaneously poured out on the altar using special funnels. This was the highest altar service and this was the occasion that Yeshua cried out, “If any one thirsts, let him come drink of Me!”
From a prophetic standpoint, Sukkot also speaks of a future exodus from the nations back to the promised land. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a time at the end of the ages when there would be a much greater exodus and that we would use the word “exodus” but not be referring to Egypt.
The meaning of the Feast of Ingathering and its relationship with the future exodus is considered to be the greatest Messianic prophecy. Many Jews reject the Messiahship of Yeshua because this did not happen in His days. But Messianics know that the fulfillment comes after the exile to the nations, which had not yet happened to the House of Judah in Yeshua’s day. In truth, it is a prophecy about us and our days.
Traditionally, Jews build a sukkah and eat their meals in it for the week. In recent years, many Messianics travel to campgrounds, set up their travel trailers and tents to observe the feast.
Feast of Dedication Hanukkah
Traditionally kept: Starting the 25th of Kislev and extending for eight days
Hanukkah is not a Biblical feast, yet it is mentioned in the New Testament as an occasion for Yeshua to go to the Temple (John 10:22) It is also called the Festival of Lights and it comes from the story of the Maccabees and their revolt against one of the four generals of Alexander the Great. The Menorah and the eight nights get all the attention, but the feast actually pertains to the dedication of the new altar, replacing the altar that was desecrated.
Foods cooked with oil, such as donuts and potato latkes (pancakes), are served at this festival to remind us of the legend of the temple Menorah during the altar dedication. According to the legend, there was only one day’s supply of oil but it lasted for eight days during the altar dedication. “A Great Miracle Happened There” became the joyful expression of Hanukkah. A game was developed using a four-sided spinning top (dreidel) to help teach the story to the children.
Hanukkah is observed for eight nights by lighting a Hanukkah Menorah. Unlike the temple menorah, this lampstand holds nine candles. One candle holder is usually distinct from the others to designate the servant candle that lights the others. Each night one candle is added until all candles are lit on the eighth night.
Many Messianics have adopted the holiday with gift-giving in an effort to move away from Christmas.
Feast of Lots Purim
Traditionally kept: 14th of Adar (Adar II on leap years)
Purim is not a commanded feast, but was established by Mordecai and Queen Esther (the book of Esther) as a rememberance of how lots (sortition) were cast for the death of the Jews but turned out to be Haman’s judgment. Many groups actually act out the story of Esther with costumes as a melodrama with “boos” for Haman, “cheers” for Mordecai, and “woos” for Queen Esther.
Some Jews observe a fast on the day before Purim just as Esther fasted before she approached the king.
Commanded to be kept: The 14th of Nisan
Passover is a commanded feast commemorating the death of the firstborn in Egypt. It was the final judgment before the children of Israel made the exodus. It is observed at the twilight (eve) of the 14th of Nisan. Judaism teaches that the Passover is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and is observed on the eve of the 15th of Nisan. In the days of Yeshua, this controversy of when to observe the Passover was present between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Pharisees kept it on the eve of the 15th. Rabbinical Judaism follows the Pharisaic tradition, therefore they teach that the 14th of Nisan is the day before Passover. Moses instructed that Passover was the 14th of Nisan; therefore, the evening before, after the 13th, is the proper time for Passover. Judaism teaches that the Passover begins on a sabbath. However, that sabbath is the high sabbath associated with the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Yeshua the Messiah weighed in on this controversy. It is clear from all of the Gospels that Yeshua ate the Passover on the night prior to the Passover day, the day before the Pharisees observed it. This calendar shows the Biblical definition of Passover which begins on the eve of the 14th and ends at sundown the next day. The Feast of Unleavened Bread marks the days when traditional Judaism celebrates the Passover.
The Passover Seder meal contains fifteen different elements including the three cited by Scripture: unleavened bread (Matzah), bitter herbs (Maror), and the shank bone (arm) of the lamb (Zarowa). Four cups of wine lead the order (seder) of the service representing Sanctification, Instruction, Redemption, and Praise.
From a prophetic standpoint, Messianics see the work of Yeshua in the Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits by the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua. We also look forward to the day of the resurrection of the saints and the future Passover with Yeshua in the kingdom.
Feast of Unleavened Bread Matzot
Commanded to be kept: The 15th through the 21st of Nisan
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is called Passover by Judaism. They teach that Passover, beginning on the eve of the 15th, extends for eight days until the 22nd of Nisan. Moses taught that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is for seven days, beginning on the 15th and ending on the 21st. Moses also instructed that the 15th and 21st were to be considered high sabbaths.
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread only unleavened foods are permitted in the home or to be eaten. This is because the children of Israel left Egypt in haste and there was not time enough for their bread to rise. Depending on which custom is followed, any food that can make a leavened bread is prohibited. For example, legumes and beans can be ground to form a flour base for bread. Corn and rice can also be considered. European Jews prohibit all of these substances. On the other hand, Sephardic Jews do not prohibit rice or corn. Tortillas made with corn are considered unleavened bread. However, both groups do agree on your basic Passover Matzah as the only flour bread acceptable for the feast.
What is leaven and not leaven has to be determined by each individual keeping the feast. For Messianics, the leaven is meant to represent sin. What may be sin to someone may not be considered sin to someone else; however, certain things will always be understood by all to be sin. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us of this. Just as we are commanded to clean out the leaven in our homes, we should also search our hearts to see if there is any sin and clean it out as well.
Feast of First Fruits Bikkurim
Commanded to be kept: The day after the weekly Sabbath during or after the Passover
This is the first day of counting the Omer toward the Feast of Weeks. Moses instructed that the Feast of First Fruits (the day after the Sabbath) would be the celebration of the first ripe sheaves from the barley harvest. This day would project forward to the 50th day (the day after the seventh Sabbath) to the First Fruits (two loaves) of the wheat harvest. This was primarily an observance in the temple; however, for many years we have not had a temple. As a consequence, there is little observance of this feast.
As Messianics, we see this day coinciding with the resurrection of the Messiah. Therefore, remember the resurrection of Yeshua as our expression of first fruits without the temple.
Judaism considers the Passover to be a Sabbath, coinciding with the High Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, they always count the Omer beginning with the 16th of Nisan. This causes the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) to frequently occur on regular days of the week, not the day after the Sabbath as it should be (Leviticus 23:16). This calendar shows the day as commanded by Moses.
Feast of Weeks Shavuot
Commanded to be kept: The day after the seventh sabbath (50th day) after the Feast of First Fruits
The Hebrew name for the Feast of Weeks is Shavuot, which means weeks. Shavuot is a one-day observance that is the 50th day after the Feast of First Fruits (7 weeks plus 1 day). Moses commanded that this day will always be on a Sunday (the day after the seventh sabbath). Judaism, however, counts the Omer beginning with the 16th of Nisan.
The New Testament describes how the disciples waited in Jerusalem and received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Shavuot. Shavuot, according to Moses, is to be a day of proclamation. This is what the disciples did upon receiving the Holy Spirit.
The Torah was proclaimed to us on this date through the Ten Commandments. The Holy Spirit was given to us on the day of Shavuot. We are looking forward to the Messianic Kingdom when the Messiah will proclaim His restoration of all things.
There is much to learn from the observance of the appointed times of the Lord. It is to your benefit to learn all that you can and to keep them all. Let me offer this last little teaching on the feasts that summarizes them quickly: They tried to kill us; God saved us; let’s eat!