As you know (and are probably tired of hearing me repeat), I’m Jewish. Yes, I was a Jehovah’s Witness when I was a teenager and into my 20s, but returned to my roots and now celebrate Chanukah when the holiday season comes around each year.
So why am I writing about Christmas? Well, that’s because I thought I would share something about how Jehovah’s Witnesses teach against Christmas.
Yep, notice I said “how.” Most people don’t realize this, but the way Jehovah’s Witnesses present their information about Christmas has a lot to do with their stand that they push about the holiday in their magazines, at their meetings and studies, and yes even upon themselves and their children. It’s actually a set of sneaky techniques, avoiding certain points to set up their arguments in such a way as to arrive at the conclusions they prefer.
I bring up my Jewish-ness because you can’t accuse me of having an agenda of supporting Christmas by my writing this. And while I am not fond of the religious doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews aren’t in the business of preaching against another religion, hoping to bring them down, or trying to convert them to our religion or anything else.
So if you are a JW, or were once one, and you have misgivings about celebrating Christmas, here’s a checklist of Watchtower views and see if your current stand about the holidays can pass the test.
Here are a list of arguments Jehovah’s Witnesses use against Christmas. We will present them in a little critical analysis game I like to call: “So what?” You will pick it up quickly as we instantly go into play. Let’s begin with JW point 1:
“The Bible doesn’t give us a specific date for the birth of Christ.”
So what? Christmas is not a celebration of the birthday of Jesus. For the above argument to work, Christmas would have to be a birthday celebration. It isn’t. It's a solemn feast marking the miracle of what Christians call "the Incarnation," the act of God coming to redeem the world in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.
“The date of December 25 was probably chosen by the church officials to replace the pagan celebrations honoring the cult of sun worship.”
So what? First off, “probably” is not the same as “definitely.” If you note the latest information from JW.org on the subject, “probably” is the best argument they can offer on their view.
Secondly, shouldn’t pagan customs that are harmful be changed or stopped in the first place? Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? Not all pagan customs have been abandoned, not even by Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as using the names of pagan gods for the days of the week and months of the year. Wedding rings are of pagan origin, but how many Jehovah’s Witness brides will do without one upon learning this? If the custom is not harmful or the practice can be separated from its roots and given new meanings, like the customs of wedding rings, why should doing the same thing with a celebration on December 25 be any different?
Besides, the celebration of Christmas isn’t limited to December 25. It actually begins on December 24 and lasts until January 1st. And, once more, it isn’t the celebration of a birthday.
NOT A BIRTHDAY? PAUSE THE GAME!
You’ve heard it from me twice now, and you are probably saying: “Wait a minute! Stop the game! What do you mean that Christmas is not the celebration of the birthday of Jesus and it is several days long?”
Yep. You read it correctly. If you have been taught that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and that it lands on December 25, you are wrong. You probably learned this from Jehovah’s Witnesses or from a secular source that observes one day for Christmas and then gets back to work on the next day.
But in reality “Christmas” is a special type of celebration in Christianity. It is a type of religious feast called a “Solemnity.” No, “feast” doesn’t mean a fancy meal that you eat. It refers to an act of worship that has a celebration theme to it. And a Solemnity is a feast that is observed with the most formal of its rituals.
“Christmas” is actually called “The Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And this Solemnity is observed as an “octave.” An octave is a feast that is observed for eight days, like Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles in Jewish custom. These special feasts last a week and a Sabbath in Judaism, or in the case of Christianity, they last for a period of any eight days, which will automatically include an observance of the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the fulfillment of the Sabbath for Christians.
“The Nativity of the Lord” marks the miracle of the Incarnation or birth of Jesus into the world, and all that this implies for humanity. It’s not a literal celebration of the birthday of Jesus, but instead marks one of the most important events in Christianity. The Church reasoned that if the angels of heaven celebrated the event of the Incarnation en masse, then surely the Church should do so in some way too. (Luke 2:13-14) Therefore they introduced this solemn feast of eight days.
It should be noted that another feast, connected to the Nativity of the Lord is observed four days after the octave of Christmas ends. It is Epiphany, a feast marking the first time Gentiles were introduced to the “Savior of the world.” The visit of the Magi or astrologers is marked on this feast (though it is not meant to imply that this happened historically around the same time of the actual birthday of Jesus). Because this feast is only days after the octave of Christmas ends, the celebration carries over from Christmas until Epiphany, giving Christians 12 days of celebration (and thus the “Twelve Days of Christmas” made popular in a Christmas carol).
Christmas officially begins like other Solemnities of Christianity at sundown. Borrowing the custom from Judaism, Christians mark the days of a Solemnity from sundown to sundown, meaning Christmas begins on the sundown of December 24. The first “evening” of Christmas therefore is the one of the day before (the same way Jews mark evenings of each day), and this is why December 24 is called “Christmas Eve.” (The same goes for “Halloween.” The next day, the 1st of November is the solemn feast of “All Hallows” or All Saints, and its evening is therefore the night before, the 31st of October, and thus the name “All Hallows’ Evening” shortened to “Hallowe’en.”)
So Christmas is not viewed as the birthday of Jesus. Therefore any argument of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding December 25 and Jesus’ actual birth mean nothing. Christmas begins on sundown of December 24, the octave ends on the eve of December 31st, and the celebration ends with Epiphany, twelve days later. Got it?
SO WHAT? CONTINUED...
“Christmas customs are linked to the celebration of Saturnalia.”
So what ? Men shaving their beards off is linked to pagan customs, but Jehovah’s Witnesses do it.
And here’s something else about this common claim I bet you never bothered to check beyond reading a few blurbs from an encyclopedia entry: the link between Christmas and Saturnalia is a hypothesis.
The date in late December was chosen by the Church mainly to offset its most important solemn feast of the year, the Passover of Christ (called “Easter” but just in English--yep, again just in English, and thus we can write a whole other subject on what JWs get wrong about this other feast, but that's for later). The Paschal celebration marking Jesus’ Resurrection falls in Spring when, in the Northern Hemisphere the weather marks rebirth. (The Church kinda ignored how this played out in the Southern Hemisphere of the planet, however.)
While there is too much data to ignore all the connections between the celebrations of pagans at the end of the year to the Christmas holiday season, the lack of silence in Church documentation is telling for the reason that overtaking a pagan ritual, place of worship, and feast by Christianizing it was a point of pride throughout much the history of Christianity.
Called “Interpretatio Christiana,” the act of Christianizing paganism has until the 18th century been an important aspect of Christian evangelism. Many important Christian churches were once pagan temples, and many celebrations of paganism were proudly overtaken and Christianized by the Church who saw this “overtaking of pagan culture” as evidence that God was on their side. While certain Christian feasts, like St. Mark’s Day, are clearly mentioned in church history as being Christianized pagan feasts, the link cannot be found between Christmas and Saturnalia. Absence of this is not absolute proof that they are not connected, but in the light of Interpretatio Christiana, why would such a grande “victory” over such a popular pagan feast be overlooked? At best, the connection can merely be hypothetical at present. Even if established, it would only match everything else Christianity did with paganism. (You JW wives ready to throw away your wedding bands Christianized from paganism due to Interpretatio Christiana? No? I didn’t think so.)
“The Christmas tree, holly, and evergreens are linked to beliefs in magic and superstition.”
So what? Wait--? The what?
Sorry, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not all cultures use Christmas trees or holly or evergreens to celebrate Christmas. Many in Europe and the United States have, since these elements are widely available, but other places in the world celebrate Christmas with other symbols. Some can’t even get evergreen plants or holly. Nope, this argument is really, really lame because these decorations are only used by some cultures in celebrating the holiday. They are not requisites to observing Christmas. In many parts of the world, Christmas is celebrated with a crèche with no Christmas tree in sight. Displaying the crèche (a decorative tableau illustrating the events surrounding Jesus’ birth into the world) is the main decoration which is practically universal to every culture at Christmas, no the above articles. But no custom, no even the crèche is a requirement to celebrate the day--not even gift exchanges!
“Christmas lights are symbols used to combat evil.”
So what? The Bible itself says that light is THE symbol of combating evil in the world. Read John 1:1-9. After reading that explain why the use of lights is wrong to symbolize Christ bringing the light of God into the world?
We can go on and on...
But as you can see, the celebration commonly called “Christmas” is far more than the one-day of pagan revelry that Jehovah’s Witnesses make it out to be.
Yes, celebrating Christmas may be pagan in many respects, but so what? If you are not Jewish, all your customs are pagan. Think about it. Every custom, every tradition, everything that does not originate with the Jewish world is pagan.
If you remove your hat before you pray, all you JW men, guess what? That’s a pagan custom. Jews cover their heads to pray. If you mark your days beginning with sunrise or at 12 midnight instead of at sundown, guess what? That’s pagan. Your manner of clothing is pagan. Your languages are pagan. The way you get married in the Kingdom Hall (or before a secular authority) is pagan. The type of music you sing your Kingdom songs to using harmonics--guess what? Western music is pagan. Do you eat kosher? No? Had bacon for breakfast? Are you eating a cheeseburger for lunch today? Having ham for dinner? Guess what? Pagan, pagan, and yes, pagan.
You don’t celebrate Christmas because “it’s pagan”? So what? Practically everything else you do is. So why should Christmas be any different, dear Jehovah’s Witnesses?