Christmas, Birthdays, Mother's Day & Flag Salute
Watchtower Bible Students actively engaged in and promoted celebrating Christmas, birthdays and Mother's Day until well after 1919. These were thought out apparently under the guidance of Jehovah's holy spirit and explained as acceptable. Now Jehovah has dictated that practising these customs is to be considered pagan or creature worship and those that participate are described as "ignorant." This makes a mockery of any claim that the Organization had a special standing in Jesus' eyes in 1919, or chose Watchtower to be his sole channel for salvation, based on it being the only Organization teaching and practicing truth.
"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." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.198
Bible Students celebrated Christmas well after they were "cleansed" in 1919. The discussion of this in the Proclaimers book lets one draw the conclusion that this was a pagan celebration inherited from Christendom, but subsequently discarded once properly considered. Yet Jehovah's Slave had considered Christmas and not only concluded that it was acceptable for Christians but promoted it as "of the greatest importance."
As the more recent publication God's Kingdom Rules! admits in 2014, Watchtower acknowledged Christmas had pagan links from as early as 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." God's Kingdom Rules! p.101
Despite this, Watchtower concluded that Christmas is an important and acceptable celebration.
"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."" Zion's Watch Tower 1904 Dec 1 p.364
The following picture includes four Watchtower Presidents - Rutherford, Knorr, Franz and Henschel - celebrating Christmas at Bethel in 1926.
Postcard photo of the Bethel Christmas meal, 1926.
The Way To Paradise W.E. Van Amburgh supplement p.30
Shortly before Christmas 1927, the Golden Age claimed it to be a pagan celebration from the Devil, and the Bethelites did not hold a Christmas celebration in that year.
"... 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!" God's Kingdom Rules! (2014) p.102
In 1928, a lecture was delivered to discourage Bible Students from celebrating Christmas from then onwards.
"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." Yearbook 1975 p.147
The following quote from the 1975 Yearbook makes it appear that birthdays stopped being celebrated shortly after Christmas in 1928.
"After that, the brothers at Bethel never celebrated Christmas again. "Did we mind putting those pagan things away?" asks Charles John Brandlein. "Absolutely not. This was just complying with new things learned, and we had never known before they were pagan. It was just like taking a soiled garment off and throwing it away." Next, birthday celebrations and Mother's Day were discarded-more creature worship. Sister Lilian Kammerud recalls: "How readily the brothers all dropped these holidays and admitted they were glad to be free. New truths always make us happy and . . . we felt we were privileged to know things that others were ignorant about.""Yearbook 1975 p.147
God's Kingdom Rules! makes it appear that birthdays were identified as unacceptable in 1936, by quoting from The Golden Age of that year.
""There are but two such celebrations mentioned in the Scriptures, one of the heathen king Pharaoh of Egypt, in the days of Joseph, and the other of [Herod,] whose birthday cost John the Baptist his life. In the Bible there is no instance of celebrations of birthdays by any of God’s people."—The Golden Age, May 6, 1936, page 499." God's Kingdom Rules! (2014) p.105
In reality, birthdays continued being celebrated until 1951. In 1940, the following experience shows birthdays were still considered appropriate.
"Pardon me for intruding on your precious time, but I just can't help letting you know how much I appreciate the phonograph which came to me on the morning after the 8th, which was my 80th birthday. It was indeed a birthday gift from Jehovah, to be used in proclaiming his name. May grace and strength be given me to do with my might what my hands find to do." Watchtower 1940 Jan 1 p.16
In 1951, that the Watchtower stated the Witnesses were no longer to celebrate birthdays.
"Is it proper to have or attend celebrations of birthday anniversaries?-F. K., Nevada.
Such celebrations have their roots in pagan religions, and not Scriptural grounds. Some Bible commentators suggest that birthday celebrations may have had their origin in the "notion of the immortality of the soul"." Watchtower 1951 Oct 1 p.607 Questions from Readers
There is nothing unscriptural about celebrating birthdays. (See Birthdays for detailed information on why the Watchtower ruling against birthdays is wrong.) Most Witnesses struggle to explain why they can't without some embarrassment at the shallow reasoning used. Romans 14:5-6 advises not to judge others and their celebrations:
"One indeed judges a day above another; and another one judges every day alike, Let each one be fully assured in his own mind. The one minding the day, he minds it to the Lord. And the one not minding the day, he does not mind it to the Lord. The one eating, he eats to the Lord; for he give thanks to God. And the one not eating, he does not eat to the Lord, and gives thanks to God."
Once more we see that so called pagan doctrine and practices promoted in the Watchtower by the Governing Body were not replaced by new light until decades after Jesus is said to have cleansed his people. This is in sharp contrast with Christian times. How many times did the Apostles issue a decision under God's direction through the Bible letters, only to later decide that it was wrong and introduce an almost opposite viewpoint?
In 1908, Anna Jarvis held a memorial in honour of her late mother, Ann Jarvis, to recognise her work as a peace activist, and because mother’s do more for their children “than anyone else in the world”. In 1910, the first US state recognised this as a local holiday and in 1914 it became a national holiday. (Wikipedia.org Mother's Day 5 Oct 2016)
In the 1931 book Vindication, Rutherford made the ludicrous argument that Mother’s Day was a plot of Satan to draw worship away from Jehovah and towards women. His bitter tirade includes the following:
“The so-called “Mother’s Day” was observed in America first in 1914, the very year that Satan’s world ended and he knew his time was short to get ready for the battle of Armageddon. To induce the people to bestow special honor and worship upon mothers would be one step towards turning the people away from the worship of God; and this is one of his means of preparing for Armageddon. … On the face of it the arrangement of “Mother’s Day” seems harmless and calculated to do good. But the people are in ignorance of Satan’s subtle hand in the matter, and that he is the back of the movement, to turn the people away from God. … Neither the man nor the woman should be worshiped for doing right, because such doing of right is their duty. Creature worship of any kind is wrong and is an abomination in the sight of God.” Vindication (1931) pp.158-160
This false reasoning continued, with a 1956 Awake! article an almost verbatim extract from Vindication.
“On the face of it the arrangement of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day seems harmless and calculated to do good. But the people are in ignorance of Satan’s subtle hand in the matter. … Neither the man nor the woman should be worshiped for doing right. Creature worship of any kind is wrong and is an abomination in God’s sight.” Awake! 1956 May 8 p.26
Mother’s Day is a heartwarming concept about respect and honour, and has nothing to do with worship. The only complaint could be one that Jarvis raised herself by the 1920’s; that Mother’s Day had become overly commercialised.
An oft quoted identifier that the Watchtower Society is the only true religion is that Jehovah's Witnesses do not participate in politics. This too has undergone change.
In the following 1918 Watchtower article the United States is praised and Bible Students were requested to pray for the Americans to be successful in the war against Germany.
"In accordance with the resolution of Congress of April 2nd, and with the proclamation of the president of the United States of May 11, it is suggested that the Lord's people everywhere make May 30th a day of prayer and supplication. God was graciously pleased to cause the nation to be formed and to grow under the most favorable conditions in the world for the preservation of liberty, civil and religious.
This is a land divinely "shadowed with wings"--over-shadowed by the providential watchcare of God's word --where God has lifted up an ensign on the mountain (kingdom), and where he has blown the trumpet message of the truth. Here the love of truth has for three thousand years attracted from all quarters of the world people who love God, love the Bible and love religious liberty. Here, practically alone of all the nations, exists in the fundamental laws of the land the safeguard that so long as the Constitution stands no law may be made nor any governmental action taken prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.
Countless blessings have flowed to devout people through the wise provisions of the laws of the United States, blessing whose influences have been felt to the remotest corners of the earth, whenever even a spark of love for God-given freedom might be fanned into a glow. Here, more perhaps than elsewhere, exists that "present" which shall be brought unto Jehovah (Isaiah 18:7), earth's oblation (Ezekiel 45:1) to God of that class who, when in the age to come the restitution hosts shall be numbered, shall be found to have been "born in Zion" (Psalm 87:5, 6), taken out of the world and given, in a figure, as humanity's present to their God, to be forever sons and servants of the Most High.
This class love to "assemble themselves together, and so much the more as they see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25), and they will be of all people the most ready to embrace an opportunity of gathering in an additional service of prayer and supplication. As says the spirit through the Apostle Paul: "I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (I Timothy 2:1-3) Let there be praise and thanks-giving to God for the promised glorious outcome of the war, the breaking of the shackles of autocracy, the freeing of the captives (Isaiah 61:1) and the making of the world safe for the common people--blessings all assured by the Word of God to the people of this country and of the whole world of mankind." Watchtower 1918 June 1 p.174 "May 30 for Prayer and Supplication"
In addition to praising the United States and praying for their victory the Watchtower also stated that showing honour to the flag was acceptable. The American Bethel home displayed a bust of Abraham Lincoln and 2 American flags.
"Suppose the city or state officials should issue an order requiring, or even requesting, that all persons display the American flag. What should we do? We answer, We think it would be right to display the flag in obedience to such order or request. Every one in America should take pleasure in displaying the American flag - especially when requested so to do." Watch Tower 1917 May 15
In 1929 Rutherford started to incorrectly claim that the Superior Authorities of Romans 13:1 that deserve our allegience did not apply to governments. This incorrect conclusion led to justification of breaking the laws of the land and distancing themselves from politics. Yet did not the 1917 Watch Tower rightfully explain that we should give thanks to the authorities in order to be able to live quiet and peaceable lives (1 Tim 2:1-3)?
Political involvement by God's followers is shown consistently throughout the Bible. The New Testament says to show respect for the 'higher authorities' and pay 'Caesars things to Caesar'. The Governing Body prayed for Holy Spirit before giving the opinion in 1917 that displaying the flag is acceptable. To later revoke that position shows that Holy Spirit does not operate through the Governing Body.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2018