What Jehovah’s Witnesses Need To Know About Christmas

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WHAT JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTMAS

There is a historical basis for the December 25th date of Christ’s birth. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) wrote Marcus Aurelius that Jesus was born at Bethlehem ‘‘as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing.” (Apologia I, 34).  Tertullian (160-250) noted “the census of Augustus—that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome” (Against Marcion, Bk. 4, 7). Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) asked Julius to assign Christ’s birth date “from census documents brought by Titus to Rome” from which Julius assigned the date of December 25th. Likewise, John Chrysostom who lived about 347-407 wrote that Christ’s December 25th birthday was supported by the tax or census records still existing in his day that showed their registration at Bethlehem.

Although the Watchtower Society delights in pointing out that many encyclopedias suggest that Christmas may have come from the non-Christian Saturnalia, others say it may have come from the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. The date of Hanukkah is December 25th but that date has varied yearly since it is based on the moon.  John 10:22 says that in the winter, Christ himself a Jewish rabbi, was at the Feast of Dedication, another term for Hanukkah. It is also called the Festival of Lights because it has Menorah lights, special foods, and gifts.

Regardless, the December date is attacked because of the weather.  Since Luke 2:8 says shepherds were in fields at Christ’s birth, some assume Christ wasn’t born in December. However, this objection is without merit as the Jewish Mishnah Seqal. 7:4 confirms flocks were kept in fields near Bethlehem even in the winter1. Israel is not extremely cold and snow is very unlikely due to the warm Mediterranean current, although it has occurred occasionally over the years. Sheep wear natural wool that keeps them warm so they can walk about even in Israel’s rare snowfalls.

In those days, it was unlikely for sheep to be taken indoors in the winter because large barns did not exist nor hay baler farm machines to bind and store hay.  In winter, shepherds brought flocks down from cold mountain slopes to valleys where snow had not killed as much grass and into fields by homes where they could be given better care.  Thus, the Scriptural statement about shepherds being in the fields near Bethlehem fits a winter setting.  Likewise, Jacob had complained to Laban of suffering from cold frost as a shepherd at night (Gen. 31:40), proving that there was nighttime shepherding in fields even in the winter.  So, at the time of Jesus’ birth, poor homeless shepherds stayed outdoors even in the cold.

It is also likely that the tax census occurred in the winter because back in those days, people’s work was largely based upon the agricultural industry that would have slowed down in the winter months. Thus, Joseph and Mary probably traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem through the Jordan Valley where roads were less rugged and at 689 to 1,306 feet below sea level.  Thus, this route protected them from the colder December weather.

Christmas TreeJust as Luke 2 says angels and shepherds celebrated Christ’s birthday, Christmas has always been used by Christians to honor Christ, not some ancient sun god such as the Saturnalia. So for most Christians, it is definitely Christian, NOT pagan in origin. It is not darkness mixed with light but light overcoming any darkness.  Ironically, although the Watchtower Society tells Jehovah’s Witnesses to oppose Christmas, they let Jehovah’s Witnesses use the names of the days of the week that are derived from paganism, such as the Scandinavian god name Thor from which “Thursday” which means Thor’s Day originated. They also use the names of months such as June that was derived from the name of the god “Juno.” For that matter, wedding rings and money also came from pagans as well, but are used with no objection by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Although some pagans have worshipped trees, the origin of the Christmas tree is not from ancient tree worship. Researchers have found notes in Medieval manuscripts which state that the tree began as the Tree of Life in early church plays about the Garden of Eden.  Similarly, Santa Claus did not originate from a pagan god like Odin, a wizard of the Siberian north, or an ancient Chinese god who came down chimneys. Records prove that the original source for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas.  He headed a church at Smyrna, now in modern Turkey and wore the color red and carried a miter stick.  He was famous for secretly leaving small bags with gold that poor girls used as dowry money so that they could marry instead of being sold as a slave or a concubine. After he died, his tradition of gift giving was adopted by other people. In Holland the name of Saint Nicholas became Sinter Claus, from which comes the English name Santa Claus.

Finally, Colossians 2:16 says: “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.” **  The Bible is telling us that as Christians, we are not to be judged over holidays.  Christmas celebrates Christ’s birthday and with its coming in winter, it is excellent for breaking winter blues or depression.  Its happy memories are in line with the fruits of love and joy (Galatians 5:22).  Happy memories are needed to help build happy families. So, if you are a Jehovah’s Witness or an Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can feel Scripturally and morally free to celebrate Christmas along with the rest of the Christian community.

FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:

  • ARE HOLIDAY AND BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS PAGAN? –A Simulated Dialogue with Cindy (a Jehovah’s Witness) and Karen (a Christian) who discuss this section of Lesson 11 in the Watchtower’s 1996 brochure, What Does God Require of Us?

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1.  This information is originally from the Mishnah Sheq 7:4, a rabbinic Jewish legal-historical document from the end of the second century AD.  Shepherds were not normally in the fields with sheep past autumn so those mentioned in Luke 2 were sheep destined to become burnt offerings, peace offerings and for the Passover offering for the temple service in Jerusalem.  These temple sheep were kept not far from Jerusalem including Bethlehem which is only about five miles to the south.  It is discussed more in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, by Alfred Edersheim, pp. 132–133.  Alfred Edersheim’s book is available through http://www.amazon.com/The-Life-Times-Jesus-Messiah/dp/0943575834.

  ** This quotation is taken from the New International Version.

© 2009 Joe Emerson, Reprinted and posted on our website by permission.

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