Halloween: This one is possibly the queen mother of bad holidays on the JW calendar. The associated symbolism alone is enough to make them back away from it, but the pagan roots are worse. It’s the Celtic holiday of “Samhain” where the gates between the world of the living and that of the dead are opened and spirits can visit this world. The Romans appropriated the holiday, and later the Church moved their “All Saints’ Day” to that date.
But there’s more. JWs also believe that Halloween is the day when the demons commemorate the death of their children (that race of superhumans, the Nephilim) at the flood of Noah’s day. Anyone executed by Jehovah should never be commemorated, least of all creatures that are half demon. That’s what makes it the worst holiday on the American calendar in JW eyes.
Veteran’s Day: Another political/military holiday.
Thanksgiving: This one just makes me tired because there’s no really robust reason not to participate, especially when said participation involves a family meal featuring turkey. However, most JWs will say, “I’m thankful every day. I don’t need a special day to be thankful, especially one that has been decreed by the government.” Sigh. I really love gravy.
Christmas: Lordy, lordy, don’t get a JW started on explaining this one or you’ll lose all your Ho-Ho-Ho.
First of all, as any encyclopedia will tell you, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. It is more likely that he was born in October, when shepherds might actually be out tending their flocks at night. Besides, Jesus commanded only the commemoration of his death, not his birth.
Other than chronology, there’s a whole mixed bag of pagan symbols and customs associated with this fun holiday: The tree, the yule log, the sending of cards, lights, Santa Claus, and pretty much every other charming feature of the season.
In fact, JWs (in their prior incarnation as the International Bible Students Assn.) used to celebrate the holiday, complete with a tree at world headquarters. Then, along came some punctilious party pooper who pointed out the pagan origins, etc. and spoiled all the fun.
You would think that forcing a child to give up the jackpot of all holidays would be accompanied by wails and the rending of garments, but children see things as black and white. Once we were indoctrinated and understood the evils of Christmas it was not a problem. Being 13 at the time of our first missed Christmas I did feel a certain wistfulness over the twinkling lights and sparkling trees visible through windows. In fact, that wistful feeling never left me. I always longed for that magical essence that permeates the air around the holiday. Of course, I kept that feeling to myself.
Upon exiting the cult I was a little bit ambivalent about Christmas. Much of the holiday’s appeal involves family tradition. I had no family tradition to fall back on and no one to celebrate with. My online friends, however, were determined to equip me for a celebration. They gathered up their extra ornaments and gee-gaws and sent them to me. My postman was not amused. After lugging three boxes up to my third-floor apartment he shoved one box through the door and said, “Thank God you’re home. This one jingles.” I still vacillate back and forth on the Christmas issue.
Birthdays: Now here’s where we go from flabby to downright flaccid reasoning. I never did agree with the prohibition on birthdays because it made no sense to me at all, but I was a good girl and never participated in birthday celebrations. (As a sidebar I might add that in my family when we were in the process of brainwa becoming JWs we celebrated my mother’s birthday in March, but a mere 4 weeks later we did not celebrate my 13th birthday. Boy, was I angry. That’s a significant birthday in Kid Land. Luckily for me, we happened to visit my non-JW grandmother that day and she had made me a cake, defiantly placing it on the table and telling my objecting father, “It’s my house and I can bake a cake for my granddaughter if I want to.” Nyah, nyah! Go, Grandma!)
The reasoning here is twofold. First, that there are only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible. Both were for pagan rulers (a Pharoah of Egypt and Roman King Herod of Judea), and at each celebration someone was murdered. No worshipper of Jehovah is recorded as celebrating their birthday. The second reason is that in celebrating an individual’s birthday you are elevating the creation above the Creator. And that’s it.
Interestingly, JWs will celebrate weddings and wedding anniversaries because, they reason, marriage is an arrangement originated by God (so is birth, dummies!). I always found this reasoning contradictory since, in celebrating the couple, aren’t you elevating the creation above the Creator? Aha, the astute JW will point out, Jesus himself attended a wedding feast where he performed his first miracle – being the ultimate bartender and turning water into fine wine. He wasn’t against partying to celebrate a marriage. However, there’s nothing in the Bible about him (or any Christian) celebrating a wedding anniversary. Hmmm.
Now, for all we know, Jesus and his 12 apostles may have celebrated each other’s birthdays with gusto but nobody thought to write it down in the 4 gospels. JWs believe that the Bible is complete and perfect, and whatever we need to know is contained within its pages. So, no official biblical sanction of birthdays, no birthdays for JWs.
As to Christmas and birthdays, official gift-giving occasions, especially loved by children, JWs will say that they can give gifts any day of the year, not being limited to particular dates. In my family gift giving happened only rarely; the folks were too broke from putting kingdom interests first to be able to afford presents. The one exception was when I was 16 they bought me a very pretty wristwatch. I hadn’t expressed an interest in owning a watch, but it was a lovely gesture. Too bad it was so rare an occasion as to stand out in my memory.
As a result of all of this hair splitting and rigorous researching, JWs are the official buzz-kills of the workplace and family milieus and are generally regarded as bad sports. There’s nothing like nonparticipation in a benign event to create unnecessary stress in life. I positively revel in heartily replying to well wishers, “Merry Christmas!”