To most Americans, a holiday is simply a day set aside by custom or law in which normal activities are suspended (e.g. work, school, etc.). The word has even been used to refer to days in which corporations don’t have to pay taxes (i.e. a “tax holiday”). In Britain the word holiday is synonymous with vacation. Like many words shaped by our cultural use of the English language, the meaning of holiday has evolved.
The origin of the word holiday dates back to the late first century when the two words holy and day were combined to represent days set aside for celebrating Jesus Christ. Originally, Christmas was exclusively the celebration of Christ’s birth, and Easter was a celebration of His resurrection. It was not until the 1400s that holiday started to acquire other, more secular meanings.
Thanksgiving was rooted in our early days as a nation. When settlers reached this new land and started enjoying the bounty, they intended for God to be the recipient of their thanks. But the idea of offering thanks to God has faded too, and the focus now is on everything from turkey to hunting to parades and ball games. Those who still take time to give thanks are often more inclined to offer it to family and friends, to Mother Nature or even to their “lucky stars.” As the definition of the word holiday evolves, the holy days continue to lose their significance to the advance of secularism.
Christmas celebrates a bearded old man who dresses in a red suit and gives toys to children. For years, Easter focused on a giant rabbit who delivered candy through the night. Each generation seems to introduce its own fantasy to our secularized holy days. (e.g. Black Friday, Elf on a Shelf, etc.)
Perhaps we would do well to learn a lesson from the pages of history. God told His people Israel, “And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, …I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 8:19).”