Christmas 2020 is going to look different. We will not be able to do all that we would normally do during the festive season. Having to meet in bubbles, wearing masks and keeping two metres apart was not what we had planned for Christmas. Yes, things will be different, that is, unless you are a Jehovah’s Witness. For them Christmas will look just like any other year. Jehovah’s Witnesses say Bah Humbug! to Christmas.
I remember my first Christmas with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instead of being at home on December 25th with my family; opening presents, tucking into the turkey, and getting ready to watch James Bond, I was digging holes for a new assembly hall. Of course, I was doing the right thing, after all isn’t Christmas pagan? We all know that such a thing is detestable to Jehovah. Bah Humbug!
As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I came to despise those who claimed to be Christian yet were happy to celebrate a pagan festival. And do not get me started on the churches with Christmas trees on their platforms. Surely, Jehovah will soon destroy those who mock Him.
A Happy Watchtower Xmas
Jehovah’s Witnesses have not always felt this way about Christmas. There was a time when they rejoiced along with the rest of the world. Their founder Charles Taze Russell had no problem endorsing and celebrating the festival.
Even though Christmas is not the real anniversary of our Lord’s birth, but more properly the annunciation day or the date of his human begetting (Luke 1:28), nevertheless, since the celebration of our Lord’s birth is not a matter of divine appointment or injunction, but merely a tribute of respect to him, it is not necessary for us to quibble particularly about the date. We may as well join with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event on the day which the majority celebrate – “Christmas day.”1
If this was the case, what changed? Why do modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses say ‘Bah Humbug’ to Christmas?
In their publication Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, they explain:
“When Jehovah’s Witnesses cast aside religious teachings that had pagan roots, they also quit sharing in many customs that were similarly tainted. But for a time, certain holidays were not given the careful scrutiny that they needed. One of these was Christmas.”2
By ‘a time’ they mean for the first 50 plus years of their history. It has already been noted that their founder enjoyed Christmas and the Watchtower Society continued to support it for many years after Russell died in 1916. Here is a picture of Christmas celebrations at Bethel (Jehovah’s Witness headquarters) in 1926. What is fascinating about this photograph is that then President Joseph F. Rutherford and the next three Presidents of the Watchtower Society (Knorr, Franz and Henschel) are all present, all saying Bah Humbug to Bah Humbug!
The Watchtower of December 1926 proclaimed that ‘Christmas is so important, regardless of the date’.3
Watchtower Rewrites History
No doubt many Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim that as the ‘light gets brighter and brighter’, they began to realise that Jehovah was displeased with Christmas, so it had to be abandoned. Was this what happened? As is usually the case with the Watchtower Society, it presents to its adherents a revised history of the organisation, with the hope that no one will check.
The problem for the organisation is that it has left behind a massive paper trail. Was it therefore, as they claim, that it just took a while to discover Christmas was pagan? What does the paper trail reveal? In their publication: God’s Kingdom Rules!4, the Watchtower admits that they knew of the pagan roots of Christmas back in 1881:
“The Bible Students long acknowledged that Christmas has pagan roots and that Jesus was not born on December 25. Zion’s Watch Tower of December 1881 stated: “Millions were brought into the church from Paganism. But the change was mostly in name, for the pagan priests became christian priests and the pagan holidays came to be called by christian names—Christmas being one of these holidays.” In 1883, under the title “When Was Jesus Born?” the Watch Tower reasoned that Jesus was born about the beginning of October.”
In other words, the ‘light’ was on in 1881, but it took 46 years for the light to become bright enough for them to know Jehovah wasn’t happy, to say Bah Humbug to Christmas!
A fair question to ask is: If the Watchtower believed that Christmas had links to Paganism in 1881, why the Christmas party at Watchtower HQ in 1926?
This could be followed by pointing out that The Watchtower Society teaches that they were chosen by Jesus himself in 1919. He allegedly chose them because they were the only group on the face of the earth that were preaching and teaching the truth. If this is the case, why did they continue to celebrate a Pagan inspired festival for the next seven years, especially since they were aware of its Pagan roots in 1881?
Trusting the Governing Body would never lie to them or lead them into untruth, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not usually give much thought to these valid questions. They rather respond with more reasons why Christmas should not be celebrated. You may have heard them say something along the lines of: ‘Well, you do know that Jesus wasn’t born on 25th December, don’t you?’
Again, this is a modern objection. Their founder, did not see this as a valid reason not to celebrate the season:
“Even though Christmas is not the real anniversary of our Lord’s birth, but more properly the annunciation day or the date of his human begetting (Luke 1:28), nevertheless, since the celebration of our Lord’s birth is not a matter of divine appointment or injunction, but merely a tribute of respect to him, it is not necessary for us to quibble particularly about the date. We may as well join with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event on the day which the majority celebrate – “Christmas day.”5
When the ‘new light’ finally arrived in 1927, it was revealed that Christmas was actually ‘of the Devil’ and it should immediately be cast aside. Again, modern day adherents hear how this came about:
“…The Golden Age of December 14, 1927, noted that Christmas is a pagan celebration, focuses on pleasures, and involves idol worship. The article made it clear that the celebration was not ordered by Christ and concluded with this pointed statement about Christmas: “The fact that the world, the flesh, and the Devil are in favor of its perpetuation and observance . . . is a final and conclusive argument against its celebration by those who are dedicated wholly to the service of Jehovah.” Not surprisingly, the Bethel family did not celebrate Christmas that December—or ever again!”6
The 1975 Yearbook reported it this way:
“What caused the Bible Students to stop celebrating Christmas? Richard H. Barber gave this answer: “I was asked to give an hour talk over a [radio] hookup on the subject of Christmas. It was given December 12, 1928, and published in The Golden Age #241 and again a year later in #268. That talk pointed out the pagan origin of Christmas. After that, the brothers at Bethel never celebrated Christmas again.”7
So, The Watchtower said goodbye to Christmas and Jehovah’s Witnesses could now be disciplined or disfellowshipped for celebrating it.
Children and Bah Humbug!!
Several years ago, I had some Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on my door around Christmas time. They had a young child with them. I invited them in, and they accepted. As I spoke to the couple, their daughter appeared fascinated by our tree. She was no doubt attracted to the tinsel and the flashing lights. As her parents were in deep discussion with me, the little girl slowly made her way from her parents towards the tree.
Once there, she began to touch the baubles. Suddenly her mother screeched at her, as if warning her child away from great danger. The little girl jumped and then ran with great haste away from the evil tree, and into the safety of her mother’s arms. How sad it was to see this.
I have always thought the non-celebration of Christmas to be particularly hard for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whilst at school, they are not able to have fun with friends because they are removed from Christmas assemblies and Christmas parties. Whilst the ‘worldly’ children are getting excited and counting down the days using their Advent calendar, all Jehovah’s Witness children have to look forward to is knocking on Christmas decorated doors with their ‘bah humbug’ message.
Under the heading: ‘Why some do not celebrate Christmas’8, the Watchtower offers four reasons.
- Jesus was not born in December or January
- Jesus told his followers to remember his death, not his birth
- There is no historical evidence that early Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus
- Christmas is Pagan in origin
Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses right? Should Christians not celebrate Christmas? Let’s consider their reasoning.
Jesus was not born in December or January
As much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses like to believe that Christians are ignorant of this fact, I am yet to meet a Christian who really believes that Jesus was born on December 25th. It matters not that Jesus was almost certainly not born on this date. Just as Queen Elizabeth II is honoured with an official birthday in June, though she was actually born in April, so Jesus is honoured with a birthday celebration in December, though he was actually born on a different date (no one knows when).
Not knowing the exact date is not a problem at all. What is important is that we, like the heavenly hosts who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, can celebrate and proclaim:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
Jesus didn’t tell his followers to remember his birth
This is faulty reasoning. If the Jehovah’s Witnesses were to apply this principle fully, they would have lots of problems. Jesus never told his followers to meet in Kingdom Halls, Jesus never told his disciples to record how many hours they spent in witnessing, Jesus never told his disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the spirit directed organisation.
The issue here is not that Jesus did not tell his followers to remember his birth, it is that he did not tell them not to. This puts the celebration of Christmas into the area of Christian freedom. I have Christian friends who do not celebrate Christmas and that is fine, it is their choice. They do not have the liberty though to tell other believers that they should not observe the season. The Apostle Paul said:
‘…but sin is not counted where there is no law’ (Romans 5:13)
In other words, anyone observing the birth of Christ is not committing sin, if Scripture does not forbid it there is liberty. There is therefore, no legitimate Scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas
There is no historical evidence that early Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus
If by ‘early Christians’ they mean those who were around after Jesus’ ascension, this is true, but does that mean that we cannot celebrate the birth of Jesus? Again, following their own reasoning, Jehovah’s Witnesses shoot themselves in the foot. For example, there is no historical evidence that the early Christians used the name Jehovah; or that they believed Jesus to be the Archangel Michael or that they gave out Watchtower and Awake magazines! So, by Jehovah’s Witness reasoning, all these things should be abandoned. Bah humbug the lot!
The issue is not about what the early Christians did or did not do with regard to celebrating the birth of Christ, but rather the question is, is it permitted or forbidden by Scripture?
The Watchtower article also points out that they are not the only ones who have said ‘Bah Humbug’ to Christmas. They direct the readers attention to the Puritans, who themselves were not too keen on the festival. Apparently, the Puritans said:
“Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.”9
Someone once described the Puritans as a group who were always worried that someone somewhere might be enjoying themselves. The truth is Christmas in their day was a bawdy, Carnival-like time, including role inversion, heavy drinking, and sexual liberties, hardly what we see true Christians doing at Christmas.
There is no doubt that there has always been controversy regarding Christians celebrating Christmas; but once again as Scripture does not forbid it and there are other traditional Christian practices that developed beyond the early church, believers are at liberty to remember the birth of Christ.
Christmas is Pagan in origin
Have you heard Christians protest after seeing a sign which says ‘Happy Xmas’. ‘The world has taken Christ out of Christmas’ is the usual complaint. Now I could try and talk to them about how the X is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ or how X has been passed down throughout church history as a symbol for Christ, but I fear it won’t make a difference. Spelling Christmas as Xmas is wrong no matter what I say. In similar manner, I find that the Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue that at Christmas Christians celebrate a pagan festival, regardless of my protestations to the contrary.
You see my Jehovah’s Witness friends; Christians do not celebrate a Pagan festival we celebrate the birth of Jesus. For sure, we Christians may have trees in our living rooms and a wreath on our doors. We may give each other presents and, whilst wearing hats freshly pulled from Christmas crackers, eat turkey, sprouts and pigs in blankets, but as we do we do not give thanks to Zeus, Dagda or Odin no, we give thanks to the Father for the babe born in Bethlehem – the one born to be the Saviour of the World.
Whilst screaming ‘pagan’ at our Christmas celebrations, the Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to realise (or choose to ignore) that none of us can fully escape our pagan past. Acknowledging that the past was pagan, does not mean subscribing to its practice today.
Ask the married Jehovah’s Witness why he/she is wearing a wedding ring. Do they not know that the wedding ring is pagan in origin? Do they not know that the days of the week are pagan in origin? Will this information mean they will take off their rings and rename all the days of the week? I trust not although, in 1935, an effort was made to reinvent the calendar and rid it of its pagan association.
Finally, as there is no scriptural injunction forbidding the remembrance of Jesus’ birth, there is liberty. Biblical Christians are free to celebrate or not. So, bah humbug to you Watchtower Society!
1 Zion’s Watchtower, 1st December 1904 p364
2Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.198
3 (Watchtower – December 15th 1926 – Page 371)
4 God’s Kingdom Rules! (WTBTS 2014) p.101
5 Zion’s Watch Tower 1904 Dec 1 p.364
6God’s Kingdom Rules! (WTBTS 2014) p.102
7Yearbook 1975 p.147