Questions From Readers
Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses observe wedding anniversaries. A birthday is an anniversary of when you were born. So why celebrate wedding anniversaries and not birthday anniversaries?
Frankly, there is no need for a Christian to celebrate either. Still, that does not mean that the two are equal in import or that Christians must view the former (wedding anniversaries) as they do birthday celebrations.
As noted, it can be said that both are anniversaries because an “anniversary” is ‘the annual recurrence of a date marking some event.’ It could be an anniversary of any event—the day you had an automobile accident, saw an eclipse of the moon, went swimming with your family, and so on. It is clear that Christians do not turn every “anniversary” into a special day or have a party to commemorate it. One should consider the aspects of an event and decide what is fitting.
For example, God specifically instructed the Israelites to celebrate annually the day when his angel passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and the resulting exodus of his people in 1513 B.C.E. (Exodus 12:14) When Jews, including Jesus, subsequently commemorated the anniversary of that event, it was in obedience to God’s direction, and they did not do so with a party or with gift-giving. The Jews also treated as special the anniversary of the rededication of the temple. Though commemorating this historical event was not commanded in the Bible, John 10:22, 23 suggests that Jesus was not critical of its being done. Finally, Christians have a special meeting on the anniversary of Jesus’ death. Of course, this is done out of obedience to a clear command found in God’s Word.—Luke 22:19, 20.
What about wedding anniversaries? In some lands it is common for husband and wife to take note of the anniversary of their entering the marital state, an arrangement that God originated. (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6) Certainly, the Bible does not put marriage in a bad light. Jesus both attended a marriage celebration and contributed to the pleasure of the occasion.—John 2:1-11.
It thus would not be strange that a couple might on their wedding anniversary take time to reflect on the joyfulness of that event and on their resolve to work for success as a couple. Whether they focus on this happy occasion in private, just as a couple, or they have a few relatives or close friends with them would be for them to decide. The occasion should not become a mere excuse for a large social gathering. On this occasion Christians would want to be guided by the principles that apply every day of their lives. So whether one takes note of a wedding anniversary or not is a personal matter.—Romans 13:13, 14.
What, though, about taking special note of a birthday? Do we have any indications from the Bible about such an anniversary?
Well, early in this century, Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, did take note of birthdays. Many of them kept small books called Daily Heavenly Manna. These contained a Bible text for each day, and many Christians put a tiny photograph on the pages corresponding to the birthdays of fellow Bible Students. Also, The Watch Tower of February 15, 1909, related that at a convention in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.A., Brother Russell, then president of the Society, was ushered onto the platform. Why? He was given a surprise birthday present of some boxes of grapefruit, pineapples, and oranges. That gives us a glimpse of the past. To put matters in their context, recall that during that period, Bible Students also commemorated December 25 as the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, or birthday. It was even customary to have Christmas dinner at the Brooklyn headquarters.
Of course, since then God’s people have grown spiritually in many respects. In the 1920’s increased light of truth enabled them to see the following:
Jesus was not born on December 25, a date linked to pagan religion. The Bible directs us to commemorate the date of Jesus’ death, not the anniversary of his or anyone else’s birth. Doing so accords with Ecclesiastes 7:1 and the fact that how a faithful person’s life turns out is more important than the day of his birth. The Bible has no record that any faithful servant celebrated his birthday. It records birthday celebrations of pagans, linking these occasions with cruel acts. Let us get the background of those birthday anniversaries.
The first is the birthday of the Pharaoh in Joseph’s day. (Genesis 40:20-23) In this regard, the article on birthdays in Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics begins: “The custom of commemorating the day of birth is connected, in its form, with the reckoning of time, and, in its content, with certain primitive religious principles.” Later, the encyclopedia quotes Egyptologist Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson, who wrote: “Every Egyptian attached much importance to the day, and even to the hour of his birth; and it is probable that, as in Persia, each individual kept his birthday with great rejoicings, welcoming his friends with all the amusements of society, and a more than usual profusion of the delicacies of the table.”
Another birthday celebration mentioned in the Bible is Herod’s, at which John the Baptist was beheaded. (Matthew 14:6-10) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1979 edition) provides this insight: “The pre-Hellenistic Greeks celebrated the birthdays of gods and prominent men. G[ree]k genéthlia designated these celebrations, while genésia meant a celebration commemorative of the birthday of a deceased important individual. In 2 Macc[abees] 6:7 we find reference to a monthly genéthlia of Antiochus IV, during which the Jews were forced to ‘partake of the sacrifices.’ . . . When Herod celebrated his birthday he was acting in accord with a Hellenistic custom; there is no evidence for the celebration of birthdays in Israel in pre-Hellenistic times.”
Admittedly, true Christians today are not preoccupied with the roots and possible ancient religious connections of every practice or custom, but neither are they inclined to ignore pointed indications that do exist in God’s Word. This includes that the only birthday celebrations of Biblical record are of pagans and linked to instances of cruelty. Hence, the Scriptures clearly place birthday celebrations in a negative light, a fact that sincere Christians do not disregard.
Consequently, while it is entirely a private matter if Christians choose to take note of their wedding anniversary, there are good reasons why mature Christians abstain from celebrating birthdays.