Birthdays have been on my mind a lot lately. Now that we as awake JWs and former JWs know that birthdays aren’t wrong, we can be free to be more “normal” and just enjoy this benign personal holiday for what it is. One great place I found online that demonstrates the extremes the JWs go to regarding birthdays is www.WatchtowerLetters.com. Go there and then click on “More Info”. This site is a great resource! The whole thing started when this JW man James had doubts about a global flood being scientifically possible, and how he wrote the Watchtower Society on this, but ultimately it was the issue of birthdays that got he and his wife cast out. They had faded from the org, then after not attending for quite some time decided to have a birthday party for their little son. Of course if you were to check JW.org for information on birthdays you will get a skewed view, talking about how two people had their heads chopped off in the Scriptures. Well James points out on his site that dogs are spoken of negatively 40 times in the Bible, and not once in the positive. Does this mean that it would be unscriptural to keep a dog as a pet? This illustrates the ridiculous reasoning used by the WTO quite well.
So some publisher got wind of it and informed on them after seeing it on their Facebook. Guess who didn’t have any interest in them, who hadn’t called on them in eons, but suddenly started calling and showing up at their door?? That’s right- The JW police, the elders! So this lovely couple are DFed for celebrating their child’s birthday party- what a travesty of freedom of worship. Well the good news is there was an outstanding write up in the local newspaper about what happened and it is quite illuminating.
So anyway, I celebrated my birthday recently, we threw a party, had about 20 friends over, and it was a blast. I actually felt normal. It felt so natural to just do what normal people do. There is no shame in it! It’s healthy in fact, as some psychological studies have actually shown that celebrating your birthday boosts your esteem and mental image.
So onto Christmas, aka Jesus’ birthday…That’s a harder one for us Strugglers. As dissident Witnesses or even former Witnesses this still has the pagan tinge of the bogeyman on it. And I admit that I still have some reservations myself. But the point that I am getting out of enjoying my Christian freedom is that each of us must decide for ourselves is it is something we want to participate in. It shouldn’t be based on the fallacious reasoning given to it by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Incorporated, a man-made organization.
And what is pagan anyway according to them?
• Weddings practices like throwing rice? Pagan!
• Birthdays? Pagan! (of course)
• Toasting at a meal? Pagan!
And then Christmas… super double chili dog Pagan! (You’ll get that joke if you ever served at any New York Bethel branches)
Wind chimes? A little bit Pagan, but a conscience matter says the WT!
Exchanging rings at your wedding? A little bit Pagan, but a conscience matter says the WT!
Pinatas? A little bit Pagan, but a conscience matter says the WT!
What did Russell, the WT Society’s first president think about Christmas? Here is what appeared in the 1904 December issue:
“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.”” Watch Tower Magazine 1904 Dec 1 p.364
Ultimately we have to decide which chains we want to break, and which ones we want to wear a little bit longer. Just do it based on what you feel, and on what prayer and introspection tell you- not what some grinches in upstate New York have decided!
If you would like to watch my latest YouTube video on this topic, as well as an audio reading from the excellent book “The Story” on the birth of Christ, the link and video are below:
REFERENCES (Some quotations have been condensed for brevity)
*** Watchtower 1961 5/15 p. 320 Q.F.R. ***
• We are an engaged couple that expect to get married soon and we would like to know if it would be proper for Witnesses to have one of the popular wedding marches played and to throw rice after the bridal party.—J. B., United States.
If one desires to have music at a wedding, it would seem to be more fitting to have Kingdom songs at a theocratic wedding than one of the popular wedding marches, which have pagan or mythological backgrounds. However, Kingdom music should not be used for dancing. As for throwing rice, The Encyclopædia Britannica, 1959 edition, Volume 4, page 122, states: “The throwing of rice, a very ancient custom but later than the wheat, is symbolical of the wish that the bridal may be fruitful.” Since this is of pagan origin and, in effect, an invoking of magic, a performing of a rite in the hope of beneficial results, it should be avoided by Christians.
*** Watchtower 2007 2/15 p. 30 Q.F.R. ***
• The Bible does not mention toasting, so why do Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid sharing in toasts?
Toasting with a glass of wine is a long-standing and widespread practice. Sometimes those toasting clink their glasses together. The person offering the toast usually requests or wishes someone happiness, good health, a long life, or the like. Others sharing in the toast may voice their agreement or raise their glasses and drink some wine. For many, this seems a harmless custom or social grace, but there are good reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not share in toasting… The 1995 International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says: “[Toasting] is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods” Many people today who share in toasts may not think that they are requesting response or blessing from some god, but neither can they explain why they lift their wine glasses heavenward. Nevertheless, the fact that they do not think the matter through is no reason for true Christians to feel obliged to imitate their gestures.
*** Awake 1990 6/8 p. 23 Hold That Sneeze? ***
“Bless You!” In many lands it is a custom for those standing nearby to say “bless you” to the person who sneezes. Where did such a custom originate? According to the book How Did It Begin? by R. Brasch, some ancients believed that when a man sneezed, he was nearest to death. Brasch adds: “The fear was based on an erroneous but widely held notion. Man’s soul was considered to be the essence of life. The fact that dead men never breathed led to the fallacious deduction that his soul must be breath. . . . It is thus not surprising that from the earliest days people learned to respond to a sneeze with apprehension and the fervent wish to the sneezer that God may help and bless him and preserve his life. Somehow in medieval times this early origin of the custom must have been forgotten because it was Pope Gregory the Great who was credited with having introduced the saying ‘God bless you,’ to anyone who sneezed.”
*** Awake 2003 9/22 pp. 22-23 The Piñata—An Ancient Tradition ***
The Aztecs celebrated the birthday of Huitzilopochtli, their god of the sun and war, by placing a clay pot on a pole in his temple at the end of the year. The pot was adorned with colorful feathers and filled with tiny treasures. It was then broken with a stick, and the treasures that spilled out became an offering to the god’s image. The Maya also played a game in which blindfolded participants hit a clay pot suspended by a string…for many people in Mexico, the piñata has lost its religious significance and is considered by most to be just harmless fun. In fact, piñatas are used in Mexico on many festive occasions, not just for birthdays. When considering whether to include a piñata at a social gathering, Christians should be sensitive to the consciences of others. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) A main concern is, not what the practice meant hundreds of years ago, but how it is viewed today in your area. Understandably, opinions may vary from one place to another. Hence, it is wise to avoid turning such matters into big issues. (1 Corinthians 10:24.)
*** Awake 2004 7/8 p. 30 From Our Readers ***
Piñatas I read with interest the article “The Piñata—An Ancient Tradition.” (September 22, 2003) It left me with some questions. The ties to false religion are well-documented. But the article seemed to take the position that as long as it doesn’t bother someone’s conscience, it is OK. What about birthdays and holidays such as Christmas? -S. W., United States
“Awake!” responds: Christians refrain from any celebrations or customs that continue to involve false religious beliefs or activities that violate Bible principles. For example, the Bible definitely puts birthday celebrations in a bad light. (Genesis 40:20; Matthew 14:6-10) However, if it is very obvious that a custom has no current false religious significance and involves no violation of Bible principles, each Christian must make a personal decision as to whether he will follow such a custom.
Watch Tower Magazine 1904 Dec 1 p.364
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.”