The Watchtower prohibits Jehovah’s Witnesses from celebrating holidays because of their supposed pagan origins and because Jesus said that his followers are no part of the world (John 15:19).
Want specifics? Here’s what the Watchtower book Reasoning from the Scriptures has to say:
New Year’s Day has pagan origins because the Romans dedicated January 1 to their god, Janus.
Valentine’s Day takes place mid-February, a time when Romans honored the goddess Juno and the god Pan.
Easter? Eggs and rabbits have been used as pagan fertility symbols.
Mother’s Day? The Greeks had a mother worship festival in mid-March.
The Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are holidays established by the United States government, and “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Celebrating events that commemorate a national’s political history involves forbidden participation in the world system.
Halloween can be traced to Druid worship of a sun god and a god of the dead.
Christmas takes place on December 25, the date on which Romans held their festival to the god Saturn.
Ways you can respond
I don’t try to get Jehovah’s Witnesses to celebrate any of these holidays. As I did with birthdays [LINK to Birthdays post], I cite Romans 14:5-6, which sets out an explicit New Testament principle regarding the observing of days. In their Bible it reads this way: “One man judges one day as above another; another judges one day the same as all others; let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day observes the day to Jehovah. Also, the one who eats, eats to Jehovah, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah, and yet gives thanks to God” (RNWT).
Jehovah’s Witnesses do wear wedding rings and celebrate their wedding anniversaries, so you might take this approach:
“Ancient Egyptians first exchanged wedding rings and placed them on the fourth finger of the left hand because they believed that finger housed a special vein that was connected directly with the heart. The Romans called it the Vena amoris. Christians didn’t start exchanging wedding rings until about 860 A.D. Does that mean it displeases God when we exchange rings like those pagans did? Of course not.”
Pagan origins don’t seem to trouble the Watchtower there. Why not? In an article in the January 15, 1972 issue, The Watchtower specifically stated, “It is thus seen that the precise origin of the wedding ring is uncertain. Even if it were a fact that pagans first used wedding rings, would that rule such out for Christians? Not necessarily. Many of today’s articles of clothing and aspects of life originated in pagan lands. The present time divisions of hours, minutes and seconds are based on an early Babylonian system. Yet, there is no objection to a Christian’s using these time divisions, for one’s doing so does not involve carrying on false religious practices.”
Why aren’t the exchanging and wearing of wedding rings, the wearing of clothing items, and the use of time divisions just as much “false religious practices” as celebrating various holidays? Because the Watchtower says they aren’t.
I would say to Witnesses, “If similarities of pagan and modern holiday celebrations trouble your conscience, then don’t celebrate them. My own conscience doesn’t bother me with regard to these matters because I know I am not worshipping Saturn, Janus, Juno, or any of those pagan gods or goddesses in my celebrations.”
To bring the Bible into the discussion, you might say, “It would be hard for me to imagine a stronger pagan connection than eating meat that has just been offered in sacrifice on a pagan god’s altar. But in 1 Corinthians 8:4, Paul says that an idol is really nothing. Can we look at what else he says about that?”
Have one of the Witnesses read aloud 1 Corinthians 8:7-8: “But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
- According to verse 7, if a person refuses to eat meat on the grounds that it was recently offered in sacrifice to an idol, does he have a strong conscience or a weak conscience?
- According to verse 8, who is right—the man with the weak conscience who thinks it’s wrong to eat the meat because of the pagan connection or the man with the strong conscience who doesn’t care what some pagan did with it?
- According to this passage, should my conscience bother me because of what some pagans did as part of worshipping their false gods?
- Help me understand why it’s okay to eat meat I know a pagan offered on his idol’s altar three hours ago but wrong to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection because pagans worshipped a false goddess at Easter 3000 years ago.
Add, “Of course, there’s also the principle of not stumbling another person.” Have one of the Witnesses read aloud 1 Corinthians 10:25-30:
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
- If I take part in holiday celebrations, am I causing you to stumble? Am I leading you to participate in violation of your own conscience?
- According to this passage, should my freedom be judged by your conscience?
- If I take part in holiday activities with thankfulness to God, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
Witnesses sometimes focus on the evils of Halloween because of its association with the occult. I deal with that by saying something like this: “I know Christians who don’t participate in Halloween at all because of its connections to the occult. Others do participate with costumes and parties so long as there is no glorification of witches or witchcraft involved. I believe that different Christians can legitimately draw the line at different places as their individual consciences dictate.”
The Watchtower also decries the commercialism and greed associated with Christmas. It also portrays it as a time when people overeat, get drunk, and engage in loose conduct. Not surprisingly, it also condemns the revelry and drunkenness often associated with New Year’s celebrations.
If they make such an argument, you can respond by saying something like this: “Of course, Christians need to celebrate in a righteous manner. But why am I being condemned for someone else’s excesses? Although there is often commercialism and greed associated with Christmas, I have found that there can also be great generosity as well as gratitude for the gift of Jesus Christ. And while people who cannot control their drinking would be wise to forego Christmas and New Year’s parties where alcohol is served, mature Christians can celebrate these and other events without engaging in debauchery. Those who can’t shouldn’t participate.”
If they make the argument that celebrating the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving involve excessive participation in the world system, you might say: “I really don’t understand the connection. Is celebration of a holiday evil because the government promotes it? Doesn’t Romans 13:1 say that governments have been instituted by God? What about Thanksgiving, for example? Doesn’t the Bible tell us in many places to give thanks to God? Help me understand why it is wrong to set aside a special day for thanking him for blessing our country.”
You can sum up your position regarding holidays by asking one of the Witnesses to read aloud Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Have Jehovah’s Witnesses tried to convince you that celebrating holidays is pagan and displeases Jehovah? Which of the suggestions I have made do you find the most helpful?
Share your thoughts in the comments.