Holidays and Celebrations
The fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in most holiday observances and other celebrations can be somewhat perplexing to a teacher. We hope the following helps you to understand why we take the matter so seriously.
Perhaps to a greater extent than you may have realized, many holidays and the customs associated with them have a non-Christian religious background. It is this that makes them objectionable to Jehovah’s Witnesses. We try to follow the principle stated by the Christian apostle Paul:
“What fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial [a false god]? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah.”—2 Corinthians 6:14-17.
So if a holiday or a celebration is in some way linked to other gods or goddesses, or if observing it is contrary to our understanding of Biblical principles, we do not take part.
Birthdays: Enjoying a feast or a party and generous giving to loved ones are certainly not wrong. (Luke 15:22-25; Acts 20:35) Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy giving gifts and having good times together throughout the year. However, the only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible involved people who were not true believers. They were a Pharaoh of Egypt and the Roman ruler Herod Antipas, each of whose birthday celebrations had deadly results. (Genesis 40:18-22; Mark 6:21-28) So it is not surprising to see these historical references to the attitude of early Christians toward birthday celebrations:
“The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.”—The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries (New York, 1848), by Augustus Neander (translated by Henry John Rose), page 190.
“Of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1911), Volume X, page 709 (quoting Origen Adamantius of the third century).
Additionally, birthday celebrations tend to give excessive importance to an individual, no doubt one reason why early Christians shunned them. (Ecclesiastes 7:1) So you will find that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not share in birthday festivities (the parties, singing, gift giving, and so forth).
Christmas: As you are probably aware, December 25 was not the birthday of Jesus Christ. You may feel that this does not matter—that the event is the important thing. But the way the Christmas holiday developed shows that there is more to it than that. The following encyclopedias explain:
“The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N[ew] T[estament] origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N[ew] T[estament], or, indeed, from any other source. The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity.”—Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981 reprint), by John McClintock and James Strong, Volume II, page 276.
“Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing in Europe, or recorded from former times, are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. . . . The Saturnalia in Rome provided the model for most of the merry customs of the Christmas time.”—Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh, 1911), edited by James Hastings, Volume III, pages 608, 609.
It is commonly known that Christmas was not originally a celebration of Christ’s birth. U.S. Catholic of December 1981, page 32, notes: “It is impossible to separate Christmas from its pagan origins.” The magazine explains:
“The Romans’ favorite festival was Saturnalia, which began on December 17 and ended with the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’ (Natalis solis invicti) on December 25. Somewhere in the second quarter of the fourth century, savvy officials of the church of Rome decided December 25 would make a dandy day to celebrate the birthday of the ‘sun of righteousness.’ Christmas was born.”
When learning these facts about Christmas, how have some been affected? The World Book Encyclopedia (1982) observes under “Christmas”: “During the 1600’s . . . Christmas was outlawed in England and in parts of the English colonies in America.” Since people in the past refused to celebrate Christmas because of its pagan origins, it should be understandable why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate it today. We take no part in Christmas parties, plays, singing, exchanging of gifts, or in any other such activity that is associated with Christmas.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take the same position of total nonparticipation in other religious or semireligious holidays that occur during the school year. The reason is that these holidays, too, are connected with non-Christian worship; in fact, certain features of such worship often dominate the celebrations. Consider the following examples:
Easter: Although this holiday is supposed to commemorate Christ’s resurrection, note what secular authorities say regarding it:
“Easter. Originally the spring festival in honor of the Teutonic goddess of light and spring known in Anglo-Saxon as Eastre. As early as the 8th century the name was transferred by the Anglo-Saxons to the Christian festival designed to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.”—The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (Philadelphia, 1944), by John D. Davis, page 145.
“Everywhere they hunt the many-colored Easter eggs, brought by the Easter rabbit. This is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility.”—Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend (New York, 1949), Volume 1, page 335.
Halloween: Though celebrated as a Christian holiday, Halloween finds its origins in pre-Christian festivals that propagate false ideas about life after death. Interestingly, we read: “After the Reformation, Protestants rejected this feast along with other important ones such as Christmas and Easter. Nevertheless, Halloween folk customs of pagan origin flourished.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1959), Volume 11, page 107.
All Saints’ Day: “There is little doubt that the Christian church sought to eliminate or supplant the Druid festival of the dead by introducing the alternative observance of All Saints’ day on Nov. 1. This feast was established to honour all saints, known or unknown, but it failed to displace the pagan celebration of Samhain.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1959), Volume 11, page 107.
New Year’s Day: “In ancient Rome, the first day of the year was given over to honoring Janus, the god of gates and doors and of beginnings and endings. . . . New Year’s Day became a holy day in the Christian church in A.D. 487.”—The World Book Encyclopedia (1982), Volume 14, page 237.
Valentine’s Day: “Valentine’s Day comes on the feast day of two different Christian martyrs named Valentine. But the customs connected with the day . . . probably come from an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia which took place every February 15. The festival honored Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage, and Pan, the god of nature.”—The World Book Encyclopedia (1973), Volume 20, page 204.
May Day: “May Day festivals probably stem from the rites practiced in honor of a Roman goddess, Maia, who was worshiped as the source of human and natural fertility. . . . [The] Maypole is believed by most scholars to be a survival of a phallic symbol formerly used in the spring rites for the goddess Maia.”—The New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia (1952), page 8294.
Mother’s Day: “A festival derived from the custom of mother worship in ancient Greece. Formal mother worship, with ceremonies to Cybele, or Rhea, the Great Mother of the Gods, were performed on the Ides of March throughout Asia Minor.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1959), Volume 15, page 849.
These are just a sampling of holidays that are commonly observed, and in which schoolchildren often are expected to participate by sharing in certain activities. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses for conscientious reasons do not take any part in these holiday activities—whether it be singing, playing music, acting in plays, marching in parades, drawing pictures, attending parties, eating and drinking, and so forth. Yet, at the same time, we do not object to others celebrating such holidays nor try to hinder them. We appreciate it very much when teachers kindly excuse our children from participation in all activities that in any way commemorate these holidays.
Other holidays are somewhat different in nature. These are not so universally celebrated, but may be unique to a particular country. For example, there may be national days of thanksgiving. In some places there may also be a certain day set aside to memorialize a nation’s war dead, or a day to remember the birth of a country or certain prominent presidents, rulers or national heroes.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also respectfully refrain from participating in such national holidays. Though we respect the authorities in whatever country we may reside, for conscientious reasons we do not give them what we view as worshipful honors. We remain neutral toward all such celebrations. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words regarding his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
[Blurb on page 19]
“Christmas was outlawed in England and in parts of the English colonies in America”
[Blurb on page 21]
For conscientious reasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take part in holiday activities
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Early Christians did not celebrate their birthdays
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“This is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility”