Archive for the ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and Holidays’ Category

Christmas Is Christian

Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness we were constantly taught that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had re-established authentic Christianity that was originally taught by the Apostles but had been corrupted by pagan practices and beliefs such as the celebration of Christmas.  Therefore, as Jehovah’s Witnesses we did not celebrate Christmas.

The story is that the date of Christmas was basically chosen by the Early Church to co-opt a pagan Roman holiday that celebrated the “Unconquerable Sun”.  Because of this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Christmas and the traditions associated with the Christmas celebration are pagan and this is just another example of how Christianity was corrupted in the centuries after the apostles died.

I usually respond to these objections in a couple of ways:

1. As a Catholic, I believe that human nature, while wounded, is basically good and that all religions contain some truth in it.  So, it is a common practice for Christian missionaries to look at a native non-Christian culture and religion and to emphasize those practices that are good and consistent with Christian beliefs so as to evangelize.  Therefore, if the claims made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are true and the early Church did Christianize a pagan holiday and did take those elements of a pagan holiday that were good and give them a Christian meaning, I really have no problem with it.  That is an example of how we, as Christians, are commanded to evangelize and use those good beliefs and practices found in a native non-Christian culture or religion as a springboard to giving these people the fullness of truth in Christ.

2. In recent years, it has been demonstrated that much of the historical scholarship making the claim that the Early Church chose December 25th as the date for the birth of Christ because they wanted to co-opt a pagan festival is not accurate.  According to Professor William Tighe, the date that the Early Church chose for Jesus’ birth had nothing to do with the ancient Roman festival of the Sun but had to do with the Early Christian’s attempts to set a date for the death and resurrection of Christ.  In the West, the date that many Christians settled upon for this event was March 25th. Evidently there was a tradition in the early Church based on a Jewish understanding of the birth and death of the great Jewish prophets that Jesus, who would be the fulfillment of all of the prophets, would be conceived on the same date that he would die just like all of the Jewish prophets of old.  This means that the early Church believed that the Blessed Mother conceived Jesus on March 25th.  In fact, to this day, the Western Church celebrates March 25th as the Feast of the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived.  If one counts nine months from March 25th, one gets December 25th as the birth date for Jesus.

Furthermore, the earliest Christian source that places Jesus birth on December 25th is recorded for us by Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary On Daniel in 202 A.D.  While this section of his work was thought to have been a forgery, it appears as though more current scholarship suggests that this section of his writing is authentic.

If one realizes that the earliest record we have of a pagan Roman celebration occurring on December 25th is dated to 274 A.D., one could conclude that Christians claimed this date as Christ’s birth some 72 years before the pagans chose that date for their festival. In fact, Professor Tighe suggests:

“Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.””-Calculating Christmas

Kind of funny as with most things taught to us by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that just the opposite of what they claim is most likely true.

In any case, the birth of Our Lord is a joyous occasion for Christians throughout the world.  It is something that was celebrated with song by the angels in heaven and with amazement by the Shepherds of the fields and with gifts from the Wise Men of the East.  When I read the Christmas story in the Gospels, it sounds like a party to me and it is one party that I would like to celebrate with the hosts of heaven and all people of good will.

For more information, here are some links to other sources:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

http://piousfabrications.blogspot.com/2010/12/pagan-origins-of-christmas.html

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp#location1

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