The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society instructs its members not to celebrate Christmas because they feel it is a pagan festival. It is argued that the 25th of December is not the correct date for Christ's birth and that this date is actually the time when pagans worshipped Saturnalia, the sun god. It is therefore concluded that true Christians should not celebrate at Christmas as, to do so, is a compromise of faith. Is there any truth in these assertions, and should believers in Christ reject the celebration of Christmas as a God dishonouring festival, as the Watchtower would lead people to conclude? How should Christians respond to Jehovah's Witnesses who argue this way?
Before proceeding any further it should first be stated that December the 25th was probably not the exact date that Christ was born. It is doubtful whether anybody, including the Watchtower Society, can give us the exact date of the birth of Christ. It should also be said that prior to establishment of December the 25th by the Church as the official time for Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ, the date was indeed a pagan festival. So why did the Church choose December 25th as a time to celebrate Christ's birth if they knew that this was an important date for pagan worshippers?
The answer to this question stems from one of 'motives'. Many believe that the Church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ on the same date as a pagan festival to counter-act the activity and celebrations of pagan worshippers. So rather than the Church falling into some great apostasy, as the Watchtower Society would lead people to believe, the introduction of the celebration of the birth of Christ on December the 25th was considered a victory over paganism.
Apparently, the Watchtower has become aware of this kind of reasoning and, true to their yearly tradition, they have put an article together criticising Christmas, along with a response to the above mentioned reasoning. In the Watchtower, December 15th, 1999, page 8, the article states:
"...some argue that notwithstanding its pagan roots in sun worship, Christmas has been accepted by Christendom. So they feel that the holiday has been sanctified as the birthday of Christ and imbued with new significance. We learn a valuable lesson from a historical event that took place in ancient Judah. In 612 B.C.E., the Judeans introduced pagan worship of the sun into the temple in Jerusalem. Was such pagan worship sanctified by being carried on in the place devoted to the clean worship of Jehovah God? The Bible writer Ezekiel wrote of the sun worship practised at Jerusalem's temple: "Look! at the entrance of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, there were about twenty-five men with...their faces to the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. And he went on to say to me: "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it such a light thing to the house of Judah to do the detestable things that they have done here, that they have to fill the land with violence and that they should offend me again, and here they are thrusting out the shoot to my nose?" Yes, rather than being sanctified, that pagan form of worship put the whole temple in jeopardy. Such practices permeated Judah and contributed to the prevalence of violence and moral degradation in that land. It is similar in Christendom, where practices rooted in the sun worship of Saturnalia come to the fore at Christmas. Significantly, a few years after Ezekiel received that vision, Jerusalem experienced God's judgment - it met destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. - 2 Chronicles 36:15-20."Despite what the Watchtower says here, it must be noted that in their reasoning they have subtly reversed the order of argumentation. The story of the pagan sun worshippers in the temple cannot be used as an argument against Christmas because the temple was first a holy place, that became defiled by the activity of the sun worshippers, whereas the celebration of December the 25th was first a pagan celebration that was taken over by Christians as a victory over paganism.
Although December the 25th is probably not the date of Christ's birth, the important thing to remember is 'what' the date and the celebration actually represents. 1 When Christians join together in an attitude of worship at this time of the year, they are simply thanking God for this special event, in the same way that the angels praised God when they appeared to the shepherds after Christ's birth on that first Christmas:
"And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (Luke 2:10-14).
It appears that the true reason the Watchtower object to Christmas is that the celebration marks a time when people worship Christ. The Watchtower strongly object to the worship of Christ as can be seen by the following quote:
"...it is unscriptural for worshippers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ." (Watchtower, 1 Nov., 1964, p. 671.). But contrary to the opinion of the Watchtower, it is certainly scriptural to worship Jesus Christ (eg. Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 9:38; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-14). Worship of Christ is surely the correct, biblical thing to do, not just at Christmas but at all times.
Among their objections to Christmas, Jehovah's Witnesses also say that the Christmas tree is pagan and should therefore be rejected. The biblical passage cited in support of this position is Jeremiah 10:1-4. This passage reads as follows:
"Hear the word which the Lord speak to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord, "Do not learn the way of the nations, And do not be terrified by the sign of the heavens Although the nations are terrified by them; For the customs of the peoples are delusion; Because it is wood cut from the forest The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers So it will not totter."It must be strongly stated that any attempt to try and make this passage refer to a Christmas tree is a gross twisting of the true meaning of what Jeremiah was saying, both historically and contextually. Raymond L. Cox, in his article "Is God Against Christmas?", rightly points out that the context of this passage is clearly referring to an idol being carved from a tree, a practice prevalent during Jeremiah's ministry (running from about 625 B.C. - 586 B.C.). In no way can the passage be twisted to mean that Jeremiah had a Christmas tree in mind, a tradition that did not begin until around the 16th century A.D. A closer examination of the Jeremiah passage clearly shows that the tree was cut from the forest, but then carved and crafted to be an idol. Verse 5 makes reference to this idol being unable to speak or walk: "Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good." In his article, Cox reveals why reference is made to a tree in this passage. He demonstrates that while the rich could afford to use idols of solid metal, the poor had to depend on wooden idols plated with metals. Jeremiah 10:8 -9 speaks of the idol being wood and being clothed with precious metals. Isaiah 40:19-20 also records the practice of the poor covering a wooden idol with metals:
"As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, A goldsmith plates it with gold, And a silversmith fashions chains of silver. He who is too impoverished for such an offering Selects a tree that does not rot; He seeks out for himself a skilful craftsman To prepare an idol that will not totter."
It is also worth knowing that even though Jehovah's Witnesses feel that Christmas has pagan connotations, many are unaware that accusations of paganism can equally be attributed to the Watchtower Society. For example, some of the days of the week are named after pagan Viking god's. Tuesday, originates from the god Tyr, the god of war. Wednesday comes from Wodin's day, sometimes called Odin, the chief Viking god. Thursday comes from Thors day, the god of thunder; and Friday originates from Frigga, the wife of Odin. Despite the pagan nature of the days of the week, the Watchtower produce and sell calendars. Some may see this as petty to point out such a small area. The truth is, it is petty to draw attention to this as an argument, but this is the same criteria that the Watchtower uses to judge the Christian world for celebrating Christmas. In addition, it might also be mentioned that the wedding dress and wedding rings have pagan origins, items that Jehovah's Witnesses will use in their wedding ceremonies.
If one really wants to find similarities with paganism, pagan connections can be made with almost anything. Other than locking oneself away from the world, links with paganism will continue to be discovered. The important thing to consider though is why there is a link or a parrallel. The Church chose December the 25th as a day to counter-act and overcome the pagan celebrations that would be prevalent at that time of year in the hope that people's attention would be drawn away from paganism and towards Christ. Although it is true that December the 25th is probably not the actual date when Christ was born, if one's motives are to celebrate the birth of Christ on that day, then such a person has not fallen into apostasy, but is simply thanking God for a wonderful event in history. Indeed, the testimony of Scripture indicates that God is not actually concerned about specific days and that the observance or celebration of a particular day is up to the individual's own conscience (Rom. 14:5-6). Christians do not worship the sun god Saturnalia, on Christmas, rather they worship The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 It is worth bearing in mind that even the Watchtower Society itself, in times past, have also said that the actual date is not important and that Christmas should be celebrated:
"...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". (Watchtower, December 1, 1904, p. 364).Sadly, the Watchtower no longer hold this more reasonable view and consider such statements as "old light".
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