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What is the Jewish view on Secular Holidays?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro


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"Secular" Holidays can be divided into three categories:1  

1. Secular holidays that are entirely secular. 

These are holidays with no connection to idolatrous origins or practices. These are usually National Holidays that are instituted to honor someone or something, such as Mother's Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day etc. These Holidays should not become part of Judaism or Jewish culture, but as citizens of a particular country a Jew, as an individual, may indeed, and perhaps should, display his patriotism and appreciation for his gracious hosts by celebrating its national holidays. 

2. Religious holidays that have been secularized but remain religious nonetheless.

These are holidays that (although celebrated by many secular people in secular ways, nonetheless) have blatant idolatrous origins, association and meaning. This can be manifest by an abundance of religious overtone in the Holiday, or by the absence of secular rationale to support a holiday of this sort (e.g. it is obvious that carving pumpkins to scare ghosts lacks secular rationale). Judaism prohibits the celebration of such Holidays.

3. Religious holidays that have lost (almost) all religious association and have become completely secularized.

These are holidays that were originally established with idolatrous connotations (and are still sparsely celebrated as such), but for the most part have become completely and entirely secular in meaning and celebration. This is evident both through whom it is celebrated by, and how it is celebrated. For example, New Years and Valentine's Day: Marking the first day of a calendar year with a day off from work and a huge party, as well as celebrating romance with a bouquet of flowers and an evening out, are sensible secular concepts and means of celebration. Jewish law is not necessarily opposed to celebrating this type of holiday; some Jews choose to celebrate them, while others prefer not to because of their distant (albeit obscured, but nonetheless original) origins. 

Our children should know that regardless of how many secular holidays we celebrate, the holidays that are 'ours' (in our home), are indeed the holidays that are 'ours' (in our history and heritage).
There is yet a fourth category which isn't an established holiday, but it can be found in any of the above:

4. Secular holidays which become a "religious" holiday or even a "religion".

These are holidays that we choose to celebrate "religiously"; not in the sense of being connected to a deity or the supernatural, but "religiously" in the sense that we become completely absorbed and governed by the dictates of the holiday.

There are endless amounts of holidays that we tend to celebrate in one way or another, but there are only a limited amount of holidays to which we can/do devote much time, resources and energies. These are the holidays that become 'ours'; the holidays we never miss, and the occasions that receive the most preparation and celebration. They are the hallmarks of our home, and the celebrations our families most look forward to.

And this type of "religious" celebration should be reserved for Jewish Holidays.

Our children should know that regardless of how many secular holidays we celebrate, the holidays that are 'ours' (in our home), are indeed the holidays that are 'ours' (in our history and heritage). The most looked forward to and extravagant barbecue of the year should be Lag b'Omer (rather than Labor Day), and on the last Thursday of November our children should be more excited for tomorrow night's Shabbat dinner than they are about tonight's turkey.

Household holidays create childhood memories, which in turn create lifelong identities. Let's give our children positive Jewish memories so they can form healthy Jewish identities.


  • 1. only offers general Jewish information, and not does issue Halachic rulings. The following article is a general overview; it is not a Halachic permission or prohibition.


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(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Starting from the second day of Passover, we count forty-nine days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuot. This is called the “Counting of the Omer” because on the second day of Passover the barley “Omer” offering was offered in the Holy Temple, and we count forty-nine days from this offering. [Literally, "Omer" is a certain weight measure; the required amount of barley for this sacrifice.]