Birthdays banned in 1951?

by M.J. 44 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • M.J.

    Just want to share what I've uncovered on this and verify my conclusion!

    It was my impression that birthdays were banned shortly after Christmas was in 1926. The Proclaimers book is very vague about this, implying that the ban shortly followed the Christmas ban.

    I searched the 1940s Watchtower magazines and uncovered this blurb in the Jan 1, 1940 Watchtower, p. 16, under "Field Experiences":

    CLEVELAND, OHIO: "Pardon me for intruding on your precious time, but I just can’t help letting you know how much I appreciate the phonograph which came to me on the morning after the 8th, which was my 80th birthday. It was indeed a birthday gift from Jehovah, to be used in proclaming his name. May grace and strength be given me to do with my might what my hands find to do."

    There is no prohibition of birthdays mentioned at all in the 1940s Watchtowers, aside from a quick negative comment within a discussion on Christmas about how the Early Church Father Origen mentioned that only sinners celebrated them in the scriptures (Nov 15, 1942, p. 349).

    The next mention of a birthday celebration in the Watchtower Magazine comes in 1951:

    *** w51 10/1 p. 607 Questions from Readers ***

    Questions from Readers

    • Is it proper to have or attend celebrations of birthday anniversaries?—F. K., Nevada.

    Such celebrations have their roots in pagan religions, and not Scriptural grounds. Some Bible commentators suggest that birthday celebrations may have had their origin in the "notion of the immortality of the soul". Astrologers and stargazers laid great stress on offering sacrifices to the gods each year when the stars and planets were in the same position as when one was born. In Egyptian mythology the "birthdays of the gods" were celebrated on certain days, and in Chinese mythology individuals offered special sacrifices on their birthdays to Shou Hsing, the god of longevity. The ancient Anglo-Saxons celebrated the birthday of the "Lord Moon", spoken of as meni at Isaiah 65:11 (margin), by making cakes "called Nur-Cakes, or Birthcakes"; and candles also are of pagan origin.—See Hislop’s Two Babylons, pages 95, 191-196.

    After telling us that December 25 was the traditional birthday of Nimrod, and not of Jesus, the new book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? states: "The inspired Scriptures do not give the birth date of Jesus, and it does not matter, for neither Jesus nor God his Father nor the inspired apostles instructed us to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. The only birthday celebrations that the Holy Scriptures mention are those of pagans, those of Egypt’s Pharaoh and of Herod Antipas who marked his birthday by having John the Baptist’s head chopped off. (Gen. 40:20; Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:21) Christ’s disciples of the first century shunned birthday celebrations as being pagan, unchristian!"

    Doubtless many things practiced by Christians today were also practiced by pagans; but when these practices are steeped in false worship contrary to Bible principle they become objectionable. The celebration of birthday anniversaries centers the mind on the creature and exalts the creature, giving him and his birth undue importance. Romans 1:25 (NW) warns of those who "venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created". Birthday celebrations could tend to take on this objectionable quality. If Christians wish to come together occasionally for profitable fellowship and relaxation, they do not have to await a day reminiscent of pagan religion. If they wish to present a brother with a gift, they do not have to await the anniversary of the day of his entry into the world, as though that were such a memorable occasion. If the precise day of Jesus’ birth and its remembrance were of no such noteworthiness, whose are?

    So I assume this 1951 QFR was the "new light" that officially banned birthday celebrations. Am I correct?

  • Super_Becka

    Can someone answer this conundrum?? It's an interesting thought, I'm new to this whole WTS doctrinal / "New Light" thing, but from what I've heard and read, I just assumed that birthdays were banned right along with Christmas and other celebrations when Rutherford came in, just as a way of separating the JWs from Russell's Bible Students and rein everyone in more strictly and keep everyone under tighter control. I just assumed that, by demonizing birthday celebrations along with other Christian celebrations, the WTS, under Rutherford, was just using its power to control and scare its followers into staying JWs and doing exactly what they were told, right from the get-go.

    How did birthday celebrations survive longer that Christmas and other celebrations in the WTS?? Surely someone out there has an answer, or at least some good references and a reasonable conclusion!!

    -Becka :)

  • Emma

    I think there were spaces for your birthday and those of friends in the old year text books. Can't remember when they were stopped, but I think certainly after Christmas was banned.

  • M.J.

    Here's what Proclaimers says:


    jv chap. 14 p. 200 "They Are No Part of the World" ***


    on page 200, 201]


    That Have Been Abandoned

    This Christmas celebration at Brooklyn Bethel in 1926 was their last. The Bible Students gradually came to appreciate that neither the origin of this holiday nor the practices associated with it honored God

    For years, Bible Students wore a cross and crown as a badge of identification, and this symbol was on the front cover of the "Watch Tower" from 1891 to 1931. But in 1928 it was emphasized that not a decorative symbol but one’s activity as a witness showed he was a Christian. In 1936 it was pointed out that the evidence indicates that Christ died on a stake, not a two-beamed cross

    In their "Daily Manna" book, Bible Students kept a list of birthdays. But after they quit celebrating Christmas and when they realized that birthday celebrations were giving undue honor to creatures (one reason that early Christians never celebrated birthdays), the Bible Students quit this practice too...

    They should say "Jehovah's Witnesses", not "Bible Students" if they didn't stop celebrating birthdays until 1951.

  • M.J.

    ...and if birthdays were not celebrated by Witnesses prior to 1951, why would there be a QFR asking whether or not they're permissible, rather than asking why JWs don't celebrate them?

    Any old timers out there?

  • blondie

    Since the WTS changed the names of it members to JWs in 1931 from Bible Students, I would say that celebrating birthdays officially ended prior to 1931.

    *** Proclaimers book chap. 14 p. 200 "They Are No Part of the World" ***

    In their "Daily Manna" book, Bible Students kept a list of birthdays. But after they quit celebrating Christmas and when they realized that birthday celebrations were giving undue honor to creatures (one reason that early Christians never celebrated birthdays), the Bible Students quit this practice too

  • M.J.

    Yeah, but I think that might another case of standard WTS-spin. I think they wanted to imply that it was an old "Bible Student" thing, not a Jehovah's Witness I don't quite place my trust in the accuracy of that statement.

  • Leolaia

    It would certainly be a problem if "Babylonish" "pagan" birthdays were still observed up through the Knorr administration. That would mean that the theocratic cleansing of the 1920s omitted one significant "pagan" observance which continued to be practiced for decades by "God's visible organization".

    I don't know what the facts are about this, but you've raised an interesting possibility. An article against Christmas published in 1950 may also support your speculation. Today, the Society objects to Christmas on double pagan grounds, that it 1) is itself a birthday, and 2) it has pagan practices of its own. But in this article, there is no hint that birthdays are in themselves bad:

    *** w50 12/15 p. 502 This Masquerade Called Christmas ***

    If December 25 is Christ’s birthday, then why do the Eastern and Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7? ... Moreover, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river about the time of his thirtieth birthday, and that was not in the chill of winter. (Luke 3:21-23) .... So all the scriptures are very definite in proving that Jesus was not born anywhere near December 25 or January 7. Hence it is wrong to celebrate either of these dates as Jesus’ birthday.... The Devil has done everything possible to blaspheme and reproach the true and living God and to turn the people away from His pure worship. To accomplish both of these wicked purposes, as is done when so-called Christians celebrate Christmas, the Devil has employed every device of deception. Two major features of his scheme have been exposed, namely, the labeling of a pagan holiday as Christ’s birthday, and the continued use of pagan customs, symbols and practices in the name of Christ.

    It is subtle, but the idea seems to be that Christmas is blasphemous because a pagan holiday is labelled as "Christ's birthday" (i.e. a day that should be sacred in some sense), and that it is wrong to "celebrate either December 25 or January 7 as Jesus' brithday" because these dates are unbiblical and/or pagan, not because of the very fact that celebrating birthdays are wrong. That aspect of the question is not even in view. If the Bible was definite on the date Jesus was born and if there were no pagan practices associated with it, the stated objections to celebrating Jesus' birthday would be removed. Even the language used is different. The phrase "Christ's birthday" is old-fashioned; its use to refer to the actual day of Jesus' birth occurs only afterward in articles published in the early 1960s (15 December 1960 Watchtower, p. 744; 1 April 1963 Watchtower, p. 198), since then the phrase only refers to December 25 as what non-JWs celebrate as Jesus' birthday. Since, then the Society has only referred to "the date of Christ's birth" (15 July Watchtower, p. 31), "date of Jesus' birth" (22 December Awake!, p. 16), "day of Jesus' birth" (kl, 1995, p. 126), etc. But even more striking is the reference to Jesus' "thirtieth birthday" as the time of his baptism; this is an event that is not connected with Christmas, and yet the word "birthday" is still used.

    None is this is really decisive, the Society could still have used language in this way after the belief had changed (we all know how inconsistent they can be).

  • M.J.

    Yes, Leolaia, there are a few very similar articles from the Watchtowers of the 1940s, blasting Christmas celebrations and talking about "Christ's birthday" without actually blasting birthday celebrations.

  • TD

    Hey M.J.

    Birthday celebrations went out the door in the 1920's. --Another casualty of Rutherford's program of social alienation.

    I'll find a reference for you when I get home; unless somebody beats me to it.


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