[Quotes from Watchtower publications are in blue.]
The Watchtower Society does not allow their members to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother' s Day, etc. The following is a summary of how to deal with the reasons they give for their position.
Reason # 1: Holidays usually have a pagan origin and are often accompanied by licentious practices such as drunkenness, fornication, etc.
It is true that most holidays have their origins in idolatry or pagan practices. It is also true that many other things we do in life have their origin in paganism.
The use of our calendar (names of the days of the week and months are named after the pagan gods).
The celebrating of wedding anniversaries and the giving of rings in marriage also have pagan roots. Symbols used in the modern business world, and art-work on stationary, wallpaper, etc. are often borrowed from pagan sources.
Note these statements from a 1976 Awake article regarding the use of pagan symbols, such as the heart, the swastika, and the cross:… What should be a Christian's attitude toward shapes and designs that have at some time or place been connected with false religion?
… So the Christian needs to be primarily concerned about what? Not what a certain symbol or design possibly meant thousands of years ago or how it might be thought of on the other side of the world, but what it means now to most people where he lives.
… With so many different designs having been used in false worship, if a person went to the trouble and took the time he might find an undesirable connection with almost every design he sees around him. But why do that? Would it not be needless upsetting? And is that the best use of one's time and attention? Awake! 12/12/76, pages 12-15.
The Watchtower is emphasizing that (1) Designs or symbols in themselves are not necessarily wrong to use, even if once used by pagans in false worship, (2) It is a waste of time and needlessly upsetting to concern ourselves with what an object may have meant in times past, or even elsewhere on the earth in our day.
The inconsistency of the Watchtower is apparent, for most of the holidays celebrated in the Western world have lost their original pagan significance. Take Christmas for example. Long before the time of Christ pagans worshiped the sun on December 25, the time of the winter solstice (where the sun is farthest from the earth). As with all pagan holidays, it was a time for generosity and licentiousness. When the Catholic Church instituted the celebration of the birth of Christ as December 25 around the year 336 A.D., it was to replace the Sol Invictus festival introduced by the emperor Aurelian in the 3rd century. It was considered the victory of Christianity over paganism. The later canonizing of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) and the giving of gifts was tied in with church history.
According to the Watchtower's reasoning, the question we should ask is: Does Christmas mean to us what it did to the pagans? Do people in our part of the world still worship the sun on December 25? The answer is NO. Though it is a time of year that is abused and exploited by many, that cannot be used as a case against the Christian concept of Christmas. Additionally, the Watchtower complaint that Christ was not born on December 25 is probably true. But remember, a celebration need not take place on the actual day of its memorial. Most of us get holidays off from work on different days than the historically accurate date, and we don't consider such a practice wrong!
Reason #2: Holidays and birthdays are not mentioned in the Bible, except in perhaps a negative sense. Also, we are not commanded to celebrate anything but the Lord's Supper.
Though the Watchtower only admits to two birthdays being mentioned in the Bible, there are actually three that were celebrated. One was the birthday of Pharaoh, on which a criminal was beheaded (Gen. 40:20). The second was the birthday of Herod, when John the Baptist was beheaded reluctantly by Herod, (Matt. 14:6). The third was the birth of Christ, celebrated by the angels over the fields of Bethlehem (Luke 2:10-14).
It was convenient to the Watchtower to leave this very positive and important birthday out of their consideration, for it destroys their point in saying that all births in the Bible were “negative.” Additionally Job apparently observed the birthdays of his children, and this was never mentioned negatively (Job 1:4,5).
The Watchtower also claims that since the Bible does not tell us to celebrate certain holidays, we should not have anything to do with them. This is a false assumption from two angles. First of all, neither Jesus nor the Apostles mention modern holidays as we know them, for they did not exist in their present form yet. All the Jewish holidays were national religious holidays, which they were allowed to observe even after the coming of Christ and the abolition of the Law! (Col.2: 16,17) The Watchtower should consider Paul an apostate, for he said that observing or not observing special days was up to the individual (Rom. 14:5,6), and even CONTINUED in certain practices of the Law though it had passed away! (Acts 13:14,15; 21:20-26)
Reason # 3: Holidays idolize something or someone other than God, and the Bible says to “Flee from idolatry” and be “no part of the world.”
Worshiping Christ is proper according to the New Testament. As the angels worship him (Heb 1.6), so are all creatures to worship him both in heaven and earth; they worship him as they worship the Father (Rev. 5:13, 14). Furthermore, we are to give him equal honor with the Father (John 5:23). To worship Christ on any day, including December 25 and Easter, is proper.
As for birthdays, people do not generally worship their friends or children on their birthdays. What is wrong with doing something special for somebody on a certain day, or oven in considering someone as special for one day? Witnesses usually celebrate their wedding anniversaries, which is a celebration of the birth of their marriage. Perhaps they should not consider each other special at all, whether on their anniversary or on any day. Perhaps marriage is unwise for them by the same token, as a mate could risk being considered “special”!
Trying to discern just how a symbol or holiday is viewed by others is very subjective. Few people in modern society would be “stumbled” by seeing another celebrate Christmas. Ironically, the only ones “stumbled” seem to be Jehovah's Witnesses. The apostle Paul did not apply his own counsel regarding the stumbling of others (Rom. 14:21) to legalistic sects of Christianity, for their legalism was a cause of their disapproval (Gal.5: 1-4).
The apostle Paul makes it clear that an idol is nothing in this world (I Cor. 8:4). It has no power except what you grant it from your own fears and superstition. If you fear an object, then it has power over you, and the devil will use it on you (Deut.7:16). The Bible says that through fear of death, man has been subject to slavery. But now that Christ has died for us, he rendered the devil and his objects of fear powerless to Christians (Heb.1: 14,15).
This really delivers the deathblow to the Watchtower. Rather than seeing Christ as gaining a victory over fear of the devil, they are afraid of crosses, Ouija boards, spiritists, doctors, exJWs, and anything that might have a connection with the occult or demonic. Rather than viewing such as mere physical objects or imperfect people, they will go out of their way to steer clear of them. This reminds us of certain religious leaders who feared contamination from supposedly “evil” or idolatrous things (Mark 7:1-23).
Whether you choose to celebrate traditional holidays or not, do not feel that it matters to God one way or the other. What matters to him is whether you love him with all your heart, and love your fellow man as yourself. To fall into religious bondage over these issues will result in spiritual regression and pride, as Paul said above. To grow up into Christ means a freedom to live in this sinful world, and yet not be affected by its idolatry and filth. If you are one with Christ and strong in faith, your heart will not be enticed towards idolatry, no matter what comes along.
Written by Warren Bosma