Definition: Days usually marked by time off from secular work and school for commemoration of an event. Such days may also be occasions for family or community festivities. Participants may view them as being religious or as being largely social or secular affairs.
Is Christmas a celebration based on the Bible?
Date of the celebration
M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia says: “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.”—(New York, 1871), Vol. II, p. 276.
Luke 2:8-11 shows that shepherds were in the fields at night at the time of Jesus’ birth. The book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus states: “The flocks . . . passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”—(New York, 1962), Henri Daniel-Rops, p. 228.
The Encyclopedia Americana informs us: “The reason for establishing December 25 as Christmas is somewhat obscure, but it is usually held that the day was chosen to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun.’ . . . The Roman Saturnalia (a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun), also took place at this time, and some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”—(1977), Vol. 6, p. 666.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month . . . According to the hypothesis suggested by H. Usener . . . and accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.”—(1967), Vol. III, p. 656.
Wise men, or Magi, led by a star
Those Magi were actually astrologers from the east. (Matt. 2:1, 2, NW; NE) Although astrology is popular among many people today, the practice is strongly disapproved in the Bible. (See pages 144, 145, under the main heading “Fate.”) Would God have led to the newborn Jesus persons whose practices He condemned?
Matthew 2:1-16 shows that the star led the astrologers first to King Herod and then to Jesus and that Herod then sought to have Jesus killed. No mention is made that anyone other than the astrologers saw the “star.” After they left, Jehovah’s angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to safeguard the child. Was that “star” a sign from God or was it from someone who was seeking to have God’s Son destroyed?
Note that the Bible account does not say that they found the babe Jesus in a manger, as customarily depicted in Christmas art. When the astrologers arrived, Jesus and his parents were living in a house. As to Jesus’ age at that time, remember that, based on what Herod had learned from the astrologers, he decreed that all the boys in the district of Bethlehem two years of age and under were to be destroyed.—Matt. 2:1, 11, 16.
Gift giving as part of the celebration; stories about Santa Claus, Father Christmas, etc.
The practice of Christmas gift giving is not based on what was done by the Magi. As shown above, they did not arrive at the time of Jesus’ birth. Furthermore, they gave gifts, not to one another, but to the child Jesus, in accord with what was then customary when visiting notable persons.
The Encyclopedia Americana states: “During the Saturnalia . . . feasting prevailed, and gifts were exchanged.” (1977, Vol. 24, p. 299) In many instances that represents the spirit of Christmas giving—an exchanging of gifts. The spirit reflected in such gift giving does not bring real happiness, because it violates Christian principles such as those found at Matthew 6:3, 4 and 2 Corinthians 9:7. Surely a Christian can give gifts to others as an expression of love at other times during the year, doing so as often as he wants to.
Depending on where they live, children are told that gifts are brought by Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Père Noël, Knecht Ruprecht, the Magi, the elf Jultomten (or Julenissen), or a witch known as La Befana. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1984, Vol. 3, p. 414) Of course, none of these stories are actually true. Does the telling of such stories build in children a respect for truth, and does such a practice honor Jesus Christ, who taught that God must be worshiped with truth?—John 4:23, 24.
Is there any objection to sharing in celebrations that may have unchristian roots as long as it is not done for religious reasons?
Eph. 5:10, 11: “Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord; and quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works that belong to the darkness, but, rather, even be reproving them.”
2 Cor. 6:14-18: “What fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Beʹlial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols? . . . ‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing”’; ‘“and I will take you in, . . . and you will be sons and daughters to me,” says Jehovah the Almighty.’” (Genuine love for Jehovah and a strong desire to be pleasing to him will help a person to break free from unchristian practices that may have had emotional appeal. A person who really knows and loves Jehovah does not feel that by shunning practices that honor false gods or that promote falsehood he is in any way deprived of happiness. Genuine love causes him to rejoice, not over unrighteousness, but with the truth. See 1 Corinthians 13:6.)
Compare Exodus 32:4-10. Notice that the Israelites adopted an Egyptian religious practice but gave it a new name, “a festival to Jehovah.” But Jehovah severely punished them for this. Today we see only 20th-century practices associated with holidays. Some may appear harmless. But Jehovah observed firsthand the pagan religious practices from which these originated. Should not his view be what matters to us?
Illustration: Suppose a crowd come to a gentleman’s home saying they are there to celebrate his birthday. He does not favor the celebration of birthdays. He does not like to see people overeat or get drunk or engage in loose conduct. But some of them do all those things, and they bring presents for everyone there except him! On top of all that, they pick the birthday of one of the man’s enemies as the date for the celebration. How would the man feel? Would you want to be a party to it? This is exactly what is being done by Christmas celebrations.
What is the origin of Easter and the customs associated with it?
The Encyclopædia Britannica comments: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.”—(1910), Vol. VIII, p. 828.
The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us: “A great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. . . . The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.”—(1913), Vol. V, p. 227.
In the book The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop, we read: “What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, . . . as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar. . . . Such is the history of Easter. The popular observances that still attend the period of its celebration amply confirm the testimony of history as to its Babylonian character. The hot cross buns of Good Friday, and the dyed eggs of Pasch or Easter Sunday, figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now.”—(New York, 1943), pp. 103, 107, 108; compare Jeremiah 7:18.
Are New Year’s celebrations objectionable for Christians?
According to The World Book Encyclopedia, “The Romans dedicated this day [January 1] to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces—one looking forward and the other looking backward.”—(1984), Vol. 14, p. 237.
Both the date and the customs associated with New Year’s celebrations vary from one country to another. In many places revelry and drinking are part of the festivities. However, Romans 13:13 counsels: “As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy.” (See also 1 Peter 4:3, 4; Galatians 5:19-21.)
What underlies holidays in memory of the “spirits of the dead”?
The 1910 edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “All Souls’ Day . . . the day set apart in the Roman Catholic Church for the commemoration of the faithful departed. The celebration is based on the doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from venial sins, or have not atoned for past transgressions, cannot attain the Beatific Vision, and that they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the mass. . . . Certain popular beliefs connected with All Souls’ Day are of pagan origin and immemorial antiquity. Thus the dead are believed by the peasantry of many Catholic countries to return to their former homes on All Souls’ night and partake of the food of the living.”—Vol. I, p. 709.
The Encyclopedia Americana says: “Elements of the customs connected with Halloween can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods—a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The festival of the dead was gradually incorporated into Christian ritual.”—(1977), Vol. 13, p. 725.
The book The Worship of the Dead points to this origin: “The mythologies of all the ancient nations are interwoven with the events of the Deluge . . . The force of this argument is illustrated by the fact of the observance of a great festival of the dead in commemoration of the event, not only by nations more or less in communication with each other, but by others widely separated, both by the ocean and by centuries of time. This festival is, moreover, held by all on or about the very day on which, according to the Mosaic account, the Deluge took place, viz., the seventeenth day of the second month—the month nearly corresponding with our November.” (London, 1904, Colonel J. Garnier, p. 4) Thus these celebrations actually began with an honoring of people whom God had destroyed because of their badness in Noah’s day.—Gen. 6:5-7; 7:11.
What is the origin of Valentine’s Day?
The World Book Encyclopedia informs us: “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.”—(1973), Vol. 20, p. 204.
What is the origin of the practice of setting aside a day to honor mothers?
The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “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.”—(1959), Vol. 15, p. 849.
What Bible principles explain the viewpoint of Christians toward ceremonies commemorating events in a nation’s political history?
John 18:36: “Jesus answered [the Roman governor]: ‘My kingdom is no part of this world.’”
John 15:19: “If you [Jesus’ followers] were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.”
Other local and national holidays
There are many. Not all can be discussed here. But the historical information provided above gives indications as to what to look for in connection with any holiday, and the Bible principles already discussed supply ample guidance for those whose foremost desire is to do what is pleasing to Jehovah God.