Written by Daja, contributing writer
For years I had wanted to celebrate the Biblical feasts. When we were first married my husband bought me a book on all the Biblical feasts. And it sat on our shelf collecting dust.
You see, we just have too many holidays around here. We have all the birthdays and (so far) there are ten of us in this family, not to mention the extended family of grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, etc. We have all the Christian holidays. As a family, we have chosen to celebrate all of them: Lent, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, plus the historical ones like Reformation Day.
Then we have all the American holidays–the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, etc.
Then the Mongolian ones (my husband is Mongolian and we lived in Mongolia as a family for several years)–Naadam, Tsaagan Sar, etc. Then the ones that aren’t particularly religious or nationalistic, but are nevertheless part of our lives and culture–such as New Year’s Eve.
I felt flat-out overwhelmed.
Oh, I longed for a Seder. I saw the Menorah in the neighbor’s window and thought, “Oh, that looks lovely.” Friends at church would wish one another L’Shanah Tova in the Fall and truth be told, I’d feel a bit left out. But, I just couldn’t….couldn’t….imagine fitting another holiday into our schedule. It was just too much! Too much fuss. Too much energy. Too much money. Too much! I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all. If I tried to pry one more thing into my calendar, I might lose my mind.
But, my heart wanted it. You know?
Then one day, sitting around with my mommy-friends, we started talking about classes and ideas for our little homeschool co-op. “Let’s have a Seder with the kids!” someone suggested. And before we knew what had hit us, we hatched a plan, assigning a different Hebrew holiday to each child. That child would have to teach it to the group in whatever way they wanted and then we’d celebrate with all our families together.
One girl made Hamantashen cookies for Purim and had us all acting out the book of Esther with costumes and noisemakers!
On Shavuot, one mom set up pop-up tents in my living room and we ate milk and honey from baskets and learned to praise the Lord in a dozen different languages.
For Sukkot we set up a canopy tent in the backyard, ate lamb stew together and danced around in the moonlight!
Donuts, Latkes, Apples and Honey
Candles, prayer shawls, shofars
Dreidel, Dayenu, and sometimes The Black-Eyed Peas
Without striving, without struggle and totally painlessly, we were celebrating all the major Biblical and Hebrew holidays. Now it is so ingrained in the rhythm of our family that we hardly remember not doing it!
If you feel overwhelmed at the very idea of adding one. more. thing. to your already busy lives, but yet you feel the pull to that Ancient Path, here are a few tips that helped us along the way:
1. Make it a group effort. Because we started observing with our little co-op (it’s only 4 families really), the weight of it all was evenly spread among us with no one having to host every holiday. It’s like you learned in pre-school: take turns. Sharing is caring.
2. Keep it simple. There is a tendency among some people *cough* (me) *cough* to be all-or-nothing! We don’t just want to remember the Sabbath, we want the Kiddush Cup, the Shabbat Candles, and the whole holiday enchilada. Sometimes this can freeze us in our tracks and we accomplish nothing rather than something small and significant! So, take it easy. Do just a bit the first time. Do just the basics. As you get your sea-legs, you can build on it.
3. Let the children take the lead. We assigned a different holiday to each of our children, ranging in age from 8 to 12 at the time. They did the research (sometimes with a bit of help), planned fun snacks or lunch, crafts, songs, You Tube Videos, etc. This helped the kids to really love it, to own it and to lead the whole family in immersing ourselves in a new cultural experience.
“And a little child shall lead them…” Isaiah 11:6
4. Look for the Lord. As you delve into the Biblical feasts do not get caught up in a false sense of perfection or legalism. Keep an eye out for how the rituals and traditions point us back to the Messiah. Even if things are hilarious and sometimes embarrassingly make-shift, take a moment and breathe it in.
Find the Lord in the middle of it all.
I remember so vividly the night of the first ever Passover Seder I hosted. I had tried so hard to get everything just-so. We had friends over, none of whom had ever been to a Seder before that night. We dutifully went through our readings and ate the symbolic foods. We feasted on lamb and drank our glasses of wine. When we finished the last line of the final reading, we somehow all started laughing! It was like joy and freedom bubbled up in our spirits like a spring that could not be stopped up.
It was as if the idea that we are free people, living in a free land, completely paid for by the sacrifice of Someone Else suddenly became reality to us and it was contagious joy.
The Seder wasn’t perfect. I’m sure I had forgotten some essential element and the house was certainly not perfectly clean. But we were free people, celebrating the feast of free people. At that moment, that was enough. More than enough.
Every time we observe a Biblical feast or fast there is that moment. That holy kairos moment. When the roots of our faith grabs hold of a truth so deep and it grows into something new and exciting.
Like a light turning on.
It is for those moments of clarity and grace that we keep celebrating the holy-days.
(And no, I didn’t lose my mind, as I had feared I might.)
top photo amended by me, originally from this photographer