The Unchristian Christmas
“JEHOVAH’S Witnesses—Christmas Not Observed by Them. One religious group in New Ulm, Jehovah’s witnesses, will not be following the usual tradition of celebrating Christmas. The local congregation has no special services planned for the yuletide holidays.” Thus began an article in the New Ulm, Minnesota, Daily Journal, last December 22.
Do you wonder why, when nearly all other professing Christians make so much ado over Christmas, Jehovah’s witnesses deliberately ignore it? You do? But would you wonder if you knew that Christmas is not Christian; that in spite of its name it not only is non-Christian but is unChristian; that it is based on pagan customs and superstitions and medieval traditions; that it is in fact the very antithesis of everything that is truly Christian? These statements no doubt seem radical to you, but if you will read on you will learn the reasons why Jehovah’s witnesses, who take God’s Word seriously, cannot afford to have anything to do with Christmas. Nor need we offer any apology for taking the Bible seriously. After all, Christmas is supposed to be a Christian holiday, celebrated by Christians, and both Christ Jesus and his apostles accepted the Bible as God’s inspired truth.—John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21, NW.
WHEN WAS JESUS BORN?
Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate December 25 because, among other reasons, that is not the date of Jesus’ birth, practically all historians being agreed on that fact. However, to state, as did one prominent United States clergyman a year ago, that “it might very well have been any one of the 365 days in the year” is to betray ignorance of Scriptural information on the subject, for the Bible does indicate, at least approximately, the date on which Jesus was born. How so? By several lines of evidence, among the strongest of which is the prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah as recorded at Daniel 9:24-27 (AS). This prophecy speaks of seventy weeks and foretells that from the time of the giving of the command to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the Messiah would be sixty-nine weeks.
According to the latest findings of archaeology, Artaxerxes III began ruling in 474 B.C.; and according to Nehemiah 2:1-10, in the twentieth year of his reign he issued the decree for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Since the Messiah did not come after 483 literal days (69 weeks), we must conclude that the Scriptural rule of a “day for a year” must apply. (See Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6.) Counting 483 years from 455 B.C. we come to A.D. 29. There was no year 0 B.C. or 0 A.D.; therefore from 455 B.C. to A.D. 29 was 483 years instead of 484 years.
Jesus began his ministry as the Messiah when he was about thirty years old; and since that was the age according to the Mosaic law for a priest to begin to serve it seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus began his ministry as soon as he reached that age, which, according to the prophecy above referred to, was A.D. 29. This date, incidentally, agrees with what the Bible shows to have been the time when John the Baptist began his ministry.—See Numbers 4:3, 23; Luke 1:26-45; 3:1-4, 23, NW.
Daniel’s prophecy further foretold that the Messiah would be cut off after the sixty-ninth week and that in the middle of the seventieth week (or, after three and a half years of it) he would “cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”. Since it was by his cutting off or death that Jesus made an end to the validity of the Jewish sacrifices, their code being nailed to the tree with him, this prophecy foretells that Jesus would die after three and a half years of ministry. (Col. 2:14, NW) This is the length of time generally accepted by Bible scholars as the duration of Jesus’ ministry and harmonizes with the evidence available in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ ministry saw four passovers come and go. (John 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 12:1; 13:1) (For details see Equipped for Every Good Work, page 280.) There being no question about Jesus’ being cut off at passover time, about the first of April, A.D. 33, it follows from the foregoing calculations that he was born 33 1⁄2 years prior thereto, or on about October 1, and in the year 2 B.C.
This October date is in keeping with all the circumstantial evidence available. The shepherds were watching their flocks at night at the time and Joseph and Mary had traveled a long way to Bethlehem to be registered in keeping with the decree of Caesar Augustus. The shepherds would not have their flocks outside during the cold wet rainy winter season of Palestine, nor is it reasonable to conclude that Caesar would require all the Jews to do so much traveling at the worst time of the year for it; a fact apparent from Jesus’ words, “Keep praying that your flight may not occur in wintertime.”—Matt. 24:20; Luke 2:1-20, NW.
ITS PAGAN ANTECEDENTS
In view of these facts, what accounts for December 25 as being chosen for the celebration of Jesus’ birth? Julian I, bishop of Rome (A.D. 337-352), is reputed to have been the first to fix the celebration of Christmas on December 25. And on what basis? Says the Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, page 727), “The well-known solar feast however, Natalis Invicti [Birthday of the Unconquered] has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.” And according to the Encyclopedia Americana, the church of Rome arranged for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday on December 25 “on the day of the old Roman [pagan] feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed”. (Vol. 6, page 623, 1942 ed.) Other authorities tell us that the church, being unable to wean the people away from this feast, adopted it and gave it a new significance. This caused Tertullian to complain: “By us, who are strangers to Sabbaths, and new moons and festivals, once acceptable to God, the Saturnalia [and other pagan feasts] are now frequented, gifts are carried to and fro, . . . and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar.”
But perhaps someone will ask, Granted that December 25 is of pagan origin and that Jesus was born on about October 1, why not celebrate that date? Why not? Because the very celebration of birthdays is pagan. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find recorded the date of anyone’s birth; nor any record of birthday celebrations by Jehovah’s servants, either before or after the time of Christ. The only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Scriptures were held by pagan emperors and each was marred by an execution, the one by Pharaoh by the execution of his chief baker and the one by Herod by the execution, the beheading, of John the Baptist.—Gen. 40:20-22; Matt. 14:6-11.
Nor are its date, the merrymaking and the giving of gifts the only pagan aspects of Christmas. Its use of the evergreen tree, the mistletoe and the holly are based on the pagan reverence for the things of nature. According to the historian Professor Hislop, the Christmas tree celebration actually harks back to the time of Nimrod some 4,000 years ago: “Now the Yule Log is the dead stock of Nimrod, deified as the sun-god, but cut down by his enemies; the Christmas-tree is Nimrod redivivus—the slain god come to life again.”—The Two Babylons, pages 97, 98.
Christmas tree decorations go back to pre-Christian Teutons who decorated their evergreens with coiled strings of fruit and grain in honor of the sacred dragon Nitthager. Glittering balls of gold were used to pay homage to Balder, god of the ever mystical sun. (Today, antigod communist lands such as Romania make a great deal of the Winter Tree Festival; decorated evergreens are featured, and last year in Bucharest, the capital, the center of attraction was “a tree 70 feet tall, on which there were thousands of lights, golden globes and metal bells”.)
The same is true regarding the mistletoe. According to pagan traditions it was a divine branch that had come from heaven and represented the Savior; it was claimed that the god Loki in envy killed the handsome god Balder with a dart made from the mistletoe; all other plants having vowed not to harm Balder; the mistletoe, having been overlooked, was therefore used. According to this pagan tradition the mistletoe dart was plucked out of Balder’s fatal wound and given to the goddess of love, Freya, whence the custom that a lad may kiss a lass if he sees her under the mistletoe.
In ancient times both the mistletoe and wreaths of holly were hung in windows and doorways for their curative and protective powers, to keep witches and evil spirits from entering. According to another pagan superstition the red berries of the holly represented drops of blood of the pagan god Balder.
And what about the three wise men appearing on Christmas cards? More paganism. In the first place, note that the Bible does not state how many wise men there were. Secondly, it is most likely that they visited Jesus and his mother Mary when Jesus was about two years old, for the account refers to Jesus not as an infant but as a young child; and not as being in a manger but in a house; note also Herod’s decree to kill all male babes two years old and under. Further, it is quite evident that the one directing the wise men with the light was not the same one that directed the shepherds to Jesus’ manger by means of the angels; otherwise why direct them to Jesus’ greatest enemy, and cause Jesus’ life to be put in jeopardy and the death of so many children? No, it is not at all reasonable to conclude that the God who warned his people not to have anything to do with pagan religions would direct astrologers or magi, pagan worshipers of demon gods, to his Son.—Isa. 47:13; compare Matthew 2:1-18 with Luke 2:8-20, NW.
And what about the hanging up of stockings, Santa Claus and St. Nicholas? To the extent that these may not be of pagan origin they can be traced to early medieval origin and, of course, find no basis in the Scriptures.
WHY NOT CELEBRATE
It may be asked, Why not celebrate Christmas, since it seems to bring much joy in spite of its pagan antecedents? Because God’s Word repeatedly warns his servants not to have anything to do with false worship. For example, note how emphatically the apostle Paul states this matter. In discussing the matter of foods offered to idols, after making the point that idols actually are not anything, he goes on to say: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I do not want you to become sharers with the demons. You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons. Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?”—1 Cor. 10:19-22, NW; see also Exodus 23:24, 32, 33; Deuteronomy 7:16; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; James 1:26, 27, NW.
In view of the foregoing, what lack of Scriptural understanding is evinced by Donald Harrington, pastor of the New York Community Church, who, in seeking to justify the celebration of Christmas in spite of its pagan antecedents, states: “It is this integration of pagan rites and ceremonies which stand as an example of the universality of God and makes one realize that Christmas is not merely a Christian festival but a holiday of mankind.”—New York Times, December 24, 1951.
Nor is that all. Note some of the material ills associated with it. In 1951 Christmas holiday deaths totaled 789 in the United States, many of which were caused by drunken Christmas drivers. The New York Times for December 12, 1951, editorialized on the “starkly tragic” aspects of many of the fires caused by Christmas trees. And not only undertakers and firemen but also doctors have extra work during the holiday season as hospitals fill up with victims of overindulgence.
Big business exploits the season, overcharging the public, selling them inferior goods and doing everything within its power to give one and all the Christmas fever, to have ‘the holiday spirit get into their blood’. Estimates as to how many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by the Christmas shoppers of the United States vary, but the fact that in New York city alone the sanitation department had 25,000 tons of rubbish to clean up after the 1951 holiday indicates to what extent the people are taken in.
Sensing that Christmas is being greatly commercialized, certain clergymen are agitating for a more “Christian” Christmas, actually a contradiction in terms. To what extent their campaign has been successful may be determined from the full-page advertisement that appeared in a daily to the effect that “we think it’s a bright-eyed idea to give someone manure for Christmas. We’ll ship a magnificent one-ton of Daisy’s best to your door (or to the rear of your barn door) for $19”.
True, Jesus said that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving”, but such is true only if one’s giving is sincere and unselfish. Remember he also said: “When you spread a dinner or evening meal, do not call your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors. Perhaps some time they might also invite you in return and it would become a repayment to you. But when you spread a feast, invite poor people, crippled, lame, blind; and you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous ones.”—Luke 14:12-14, NW.
Under the artificial stimulation of the Christmas fever some unfortunates may get some “charity”. But that hardly compensates for the fact that Christmas is in reality a snare of the Devil, to deceive the people into thinking that they are Christians by reason of indulging in pagan customs and ceremonies that gratify the fleshly instincts, waste money, health and lives and, worst of all, arouse Jehovah God to jealousy.
True Christianity does not work that way. It does good to its fellow men 365 days a year and not just one day, and not just in material ways but in the far more important spiritual treasures which lead to everlasting life. Jehovah’s witnesses have devoted their lives to doing this very thing.
And now do you understand why they do not celebrate Christmas?