Saturday, July 09, 2022

Annual Observances for Seventh-day Adventists

In Seventh-day Adventism, some families and communities feel called to observe something like a festal or liturgical year to rehearse the story of salvation rather than enjoy merely secular holidays or take the extreme position of observing none at all. Ellen G. White also recognized that there are certain times of the year that, like Christmas Day, may be observed as a "sacred event" (Review and Herald, 17 Dec 1889), yet one on which, unlike Sabbath, "there is no divine sanctity resting" (Review and Herald, 9 Dec 1884). Therefore, we have the Christian liberty to observe them or not as is most meaningful to us. But Ellen White counseled us to not neglect the opportunity to make much of Christ on occasions when people, especially young people, expect a celebration (9 Dec 1884).


What follows is a framework within which Seventh-day Adventists can develop a rhythm of annual observances for individual, familial, or communal devotional practice. I do not present it as a program to which nothing may be added and from which nothing may be subtracted; the Sabbath is the only day we are to keep holy without exception.

This annual cycle incorporates observances from Adventism's deep Jewish, broadly Christian, and specifically Protestant backgrounds:

  • Three festivals that Gentiles can celebrate with Jews—the Feast of Lots (Esth 9:27), Passover (Exod 12:48, Num 9:14), and the Festival of Tabernacles (Deut 16:13–14, Zech 14:16
  • The Five Evangelical Feasts recognized by Reformed Christian communions—Good Friday, Resurrection Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Christmas—along with two Western Christian seasons included in the mainline Protestants' Revised Common Lectionary—Advent and Christmastide
  • Reformation Day
  • Three holidays recommended by Ellen White—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's
These combine to present the story of Jesus Christ and his church:

The Five Spring Observances tell the story of Christ's death, burial, resurrection (1 Cor 15:3–4), and ascension to Heaven (Acts 2:33–35) and heavenly sanctuary ministry (Eph 4:7–8) in the context of the great controversy.

The Five Autumn Observances tell the story of the end-time events in Revelation 13–14 in the context of Christ's Second Coming, concluding with the hope of Immanuel, God with us, at "the restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21) when the great controversy is resolved (Rev 21:1–22:5).

Spring Observances 

1. Feast of Lots
Old Testament feast day commemorating the victory of the Jews over Haman's plot
Date: (movable) February 26–March 26
Salvation Story Theme: the great controversy between Christ and Satan
Suggested Activity and Scripture Reading: Put on an Esther play while reading the Book of Esther.
Suggested Scripture Reading: Job 1–2
Suggested Psalms: The Lord's My Shepherd, Send Out Your Light, Psalm 46, Psalm 121

2. Passover
Old Testament feast day commemorating Israel's exodus out of Egypt
Date: (movable) March 28–April 25
Salvation Story Theme: Christ's sacrificial death
Suggested Activity: Hold a Passover feast with traditions that Jesus followed.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Exodus 11–12; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:6–8, 10:1–13
Suggested Psalms: God Be Merciful to Me, Psalm 51, Psalm 130, Psalm 136

3. Easter
Evangelical feast days, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, commemorating Christ's death and resurrection
Date of Good Friday: (movable) March 25–April 25
Salvation Story Theme: Christ's burial and resurrection
Suggested Activities: Have a sundown worship service (Good Friday); have a sunrise worship service (Resurrection Day).
Suggested Scripture Readings: (Good Friday) Matthew 26–27, Mark 14–15, Luke 22-23, John 18–19; (Resurrection Day) Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20
Suggested Hymns: (Good Friday) He Never Said a Mumblin' Word, Lead Me to Calvary, In Christ Alone, God Rested; (Resurrection Day) Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Now the Green Blade Rises, Because He Lives, Easter Song

4. Ascension Day
Evangelical feast day commemorating Christ's ascension
Date: (movable) May 3–June 3
Salvation Story Theme: Christ's ascension to the right hand of the Father and the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary
Suggested Activity: Feast on food that rises like fluffy pastries or (plant-based) poultry.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Acts 1; Ephesians 1:20–21, 4:7–8; Revelation 4–5
Suggested Hymns: A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus, Arise, My Soul, Arise, Is He Worthy?

5. Pentecost
Evangelical feast day commemorating the beginning of the church
Date: (movable) May 13–June 9
Salvation Story Theme: Christ's heavenly sanctuary ministry and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
Suggested Activity: Feast on first fruits and/or food that looks like or is cooked with fire.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Joel 2:28–29, John 14:15–31, Acts 2, Galatians 5:13–26
Suggested Hymns: O for That Flame of Living Fire, Baptize Us Anew, Come Holy Spirit, Build Your Kingdom Here

Autumn Observances

6. Festival of Tabernacles
Old Testament seven-day harvest festival
Date of the first day: (movable) September 21–October 19
Salvation Story Theme: Christ's Second Coming as the ingathering of God's harvest
Suggested Activity: Sleep in an outdoor shelter or as if you were in one.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Matthew 13, Matthew 24–25, Revelation 14.
Suggested Psalms: Psalm 34, All People That on Earth Do Dwell, Flourishing, Psalm 126

7. Reformation Day
Protestant commemoration celebrating Reformation heritage (Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on All Saints' Eve) and memorializing martyrs on All Saints' Eve and/or All Saints' Day
Date of All Saints' Eve: (fixed) October 31
Salvation Story Theme: the beast from the sea and the Protestant Reformation
Suggested Activities: Dress up like reformers; post the 95 Theses on a door; read the testimonies of martyrs.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Daniel 7; Revelation 6:9–11, chs. 12–13
Suggested Hymns: Faith of Our Fathers, For All the Saints, When the Saints Go Marchin' In, By Faith

8. Thanksgiving Day
American holiday instituted during the US Civil War and recommended by Ellen White
Date: (movable) third Thursday in November (USA) or second Monday in October (Canada)
Salvation Story Theme: the beast from the land and religious liberty
Suggested Activities: Share testimonies of gratitude and feast on locally harvested food.
Suggested Scripture Readings: Psalm 95, Psalm 100, John 18:36, Revelation 13:11–15
Suggested Hymns: Now Thank We All Our God, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Thank You Lord, 10,000 Reasons

9. Advent
Christian season that anticipates the coming of Christ
Dates: (movable) November 27–December 3 to (fixed) December 24
Salvation Story Theme: preparation for the Second Coming and the Three Angels' Messages
Suggested Activities: Give Advent calendar treats; have an Advent theme for family or group worship every week: (week 1) the second coming, (week 2) the messianic prophecies, (week 3) John the Baptist, (week 4) Mary and Joseph.
Suggested Scripture Readings: (week 1) John 14:1–14, (week 2) Isaiah 52:13–53:12, (week 3) Luke 3:1–20, and (week 4) Luke 1
Suggested Hymns: (week 1) O Come, O Come Emmanuel, (week 2) Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming, (week 3) On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry, (week 4) Magnificat

10. Christmastide
Christian season that includes (1) Christmas Day, an evangelical feast day commemorating the birth of Christ, which Ellen White recommended, and (2a) New Years Day, another holiday that Ellen White recommended as a time of reflection and re-commitment, and which coincides with (2b) the commemoration of Christ's circumcision eight days after his birth; and concludes at (3) the commemoration of the visit of the Magi (Epiphany)
Dates: (fixed) December 25 to January 6
Salvation Story Theme: God dwelling with us and the great controversy ended
Suggested Activities: Give gifts to those in need (Christmas); renew your covenant with God (New Year's); sing Christmas carols during the twelve days of Christmastide (December 25 to January 5); and give gifts to the needy (Epiphany).
Suggested Scripture Readings: (Christmas) Luke 2:1–21; (New Year's) Psalm 139, Luke 2:22–40; (Epiphany) Isaiah 60, Matthew 2, Romans 9:30–11:36, Revelation 21–22
Suggested Hymns: (Christmas) Once in Royal David's City, Go Tell It on the Mountain; (New Year's) Lord God, Now Let Your Servant Depart in Peace, Wake the Song; (Epiphany) We Three Kings


Traditional elements for this cycle of annual observances may be found in the Scriptures and the other foundational texts of the background traditions, or in their popular interpreters. If unfamiliar, Google, Wikipedia, and your local library can resolve that.

"Tradition is an argument extended through time" (Alasdair MacIntyre), but enter into these arguments with due regard for the faith in God expressed by the contemporary practitioners of Adventism's background traditions. Jewish-Christian relations are fraught with a history of persecution by Christians aimed at erasing Jewish identity. Thus, many Jews take offense at Christians observing their traditions, including Shabbat rituals for keeping the seventh day.

Because we should use our Christian liberty to serve others (Gal 5:13) and not to cause them offense (1 Cor 8:9), I recommend the following limits for non-Jewish Adventists who choose to observe Old Testament festivals: Don't hold public-facing meetings involving extra-biblical Jewish traditions and make it clear to participants that you are observing such events only insofar as they build up faith in Jesus and not attempting to keep them for the sake of the covenant God made with Israel. People who convert to Christianity offer certain of their traditions to other Christians so that all believers can better express faith in Jesus, and so, out of respect for the integrity of Christian and Jewish identity, seek out resources that are offered by Jewish Christians to other Christians for the purpose of building up Christian faith. Just because it is something most Jews do does not necessarily mean it is beneficial for a Seventh-day Adventist to do it.

Regardless of the background tradition involved, these observances require Adventists to interpret or modify these elements of the contemporary expressions of the background traditions in ways that accord with our faith. Where expedient, we can also create new elements that make them more meaningful for our families or communities. This may include moving the dates of observances to coincide with Sabbath, achieve the desired order in the cycle, or align with a minority calendar, like that of the Karaite Jews or Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Even for those who had to keep feasts and festivals, God clarified making adjustments based on circumstances and limitations was preferable to not receiving the benefit of them at all (Num 9:10–11). These observances have benefited me spiritually whether I, my family, or my small group did a lot or a little. Do not let others judge which, if any, annual observances are beneficial to you, nor how maximally or minimally you observe them (Col 2:16).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this profound article! God bless your ministry work for His cause!
    SDA Sabbath Songs