“We don’t celebrate holidays because God doesn’t approve of any celebration that is rooted in pagan customs and manmade traditions.” (See here for a similar JW response.)
If you were once an ex-JW like me, you have probably said something like this out in field service to someone who asked the question: Why don’t you people celebrate holidays? As the Witnesses' official website states in an FAQ about not celebrating Easter:
We believe that our decision to abstain from celebrating Easter is based firmly on the Bible, which encourages the use of “practical wisdom and thinking ability” rather than simply following human traditions. (Proverbs 3:21; Matthew 15:3)This same page on their website also states:
Jesus commanded that we commemorate his death, not his resurrection. We observe this Memorial each year on the anniversary of his death according to the Bible’s lunar calendar.—Luke 22:19, 20.Did you know that the Memorial is rooted in pagan customs and rites? It also has human traditions incorporated into it. This is because it is based on the Jewish Passover. The customs of Passover, the very timing of the observance, and even the meaning attributed to everything not just at a Passover Seder but at the Memorial observed by Jehovah’s Witnesses all come from the pagan world and invented tradition. Don’t believe me?
What Jews Know and Teach about Passover
Jews teach that the Passover comes from a custom observed by Abraham that he got from his ancestors before him. It was a spring festival held on the night of the first full moon in Spring (or somewhere to coincide with the arrival of the new season) to celebrate the this time of change and new life. And this observance, by its very nature, was of pagan origin.
While there are variations in the Haggadah that each Jewish family or gathering will use, the outline of the Haggadah is pretty much generalized. The one I use is The New Union Haggadah (a recent revision of a very classic American Jewish Haggadah first published in 1923.) It has a very interesting explanation of the history of the Passover and its symbols in the back:
In fashioning their allegorical narrative, the authors of the Book of Exodus mythologized an array of rituals that were likely part of ancient Near Eastern society for centuries. Many scholars have suggested that the slaughtering of an animal for the sake of painting one’s doorposts [with its blood] to ward off evil spirits existed long before the Israelite authors adopted and adapted it for the Exodus story’s final plague….
Similarly, the consumption of matzah was mythologized to take on new meanings...it was likely tied into the agricultural celebrations associated with the springtime harvest of the winter’s wheat. The integration of matzah and pesach [Passover doorpost painting] into the Exodus story--two ritual objects associated with renewed life and sustaining life--builds upon common themes in brilliantly creative contexts. What an ancient Canaanite family was observing annually anyway is suddenly imbued with an Israelite mythological origin….
Most prominent in the Haggadah are materials that derive from Rabbinic literature rather than the Torah...even the specific ritual items on the seder plate, not to mention the four cups of wine--these and other details are all Rabbinic inventions with no basis in Torah.This is not to say that there is no historical basis for what the Jews are observing each and every Passover. The Jewish people are descendents of people who were enslaved several times in history, as they were in Babylon when the particular version of the Exodus that is in the Bible took its final shape. The Hebrews were likely among the Semites who migrated to Egypt when it was under Hyksos rule and then left when foreign settlers were being enslaved under the new dynasty of pharaohs that followed.
Notes The New Union Haggadah:
What is described in the Passover story should be considered a veiled depiction of Jews displaced to Babylonia and eventually through the Levant after the conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.While there is definitely reason to remember our “Egyptian sojourn,” Jews are also aware that those ancient stories were recomposed through the lense of the Diaspora after the Babylonians took us from our land. The promise of being freed from slavery, of entering into a new covenant with God, of receiving laws that would produce a just society (as they understood it back then), and the hope of entering (returning) to the Promised Land were all very real Diaspora concepts the Jews painfully felt while living in Babylonian exile. This gave their oral history about their origin as migrants escaping slavery in Egypt the meaning that filled the Exodus narrative we know today.
The Emblems are Pagan
This leads us back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they don’t observe customs or celebrations that have pagan origins or have their basis in human tradition. Yet, as you can see, the bread or matzah used in the Memorial has its basis in pagan customs. The use of wine during the Passover Seder comes from a tradition invented by Rabbinical authority, not from God.
It might also help people see that Jews are a bit more egalitarian than some have accused us of being. We don’t see ourselves as better or far more special than others. We understand that we are a product of the world around us and that our origins are far less than the legendary Cecil B. DeMille sequences from the movie The Ten Commandments. At its core the Exodus story is a call for all form of slavery to end, for all people to celebrate their freedom, and for people to learn from the past and celebrate the “now” with their loved ones. Whatever your beliefs, creed, or lack thereof, you too are called out from the bonds of darkness and oppression. Especially if you too left the Watchtower, you are free to celebrate your exodus in anyway and anytime you see fit. You were once slaves, but now you are all free.
Blessings this Passover to all,