“Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.”—EPHESIANS 5:10.
1. What kind of people does Jehovah draw to himself, and why must they remain spiritually vigilant?
“THE true worshippers,” said Jesus, “will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for indeed, the Father is looking for ones like these to worship him.” (John 4:23) When Jehovah finds such individuals—as he found you—he draws them to himself and to his Son. (John 6:44) What an honor that is! Lovers of Bible truth, however, must “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord,” for Satan is a master of deception.—Ephesians 5:10; Revelation 12:9.
2. Explain how Jehovah views those who try to fuse true religion with false.
2 Consider what occurred near Mount Sinai when the Israelites asked Aaron to make them a god. Aaron acquiesced and made a golden calf but implied that it represented Jehovah. “There is a festival to Jehovah tomorrow,” he said. Was Jehovah indifferent to this fusion of true religion with false? No. He had about 3,000 idolaters put to death. (Exodus 32:1-6, 10, 28) The lesson? If we want to keep ourselves in God’s love, we must “touch nothing unclean” and jealously guard the truth against any form of corruption.—Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 44:23; Galatians 5:9.
3, 4. Why should we pay close attention to Bible principles when examining popular customs and celebrations?
3 Sadly, after the death of the apostles, who acted as a restraint against apostasy, so-called Christians who had no love of truth began to adopt pagan customs, celebrations, and “holy” days, which they dubbed Christian. (2 Thessalonians 2:7, 10) As you consider some of these celebrations, note how they reflect, not the spirit of God, but that of the world. Generally speaking, worldly celebrations have a common theme: They appeal to fleshly desires, and they promote false religious beliefs and spiritism—the hallmarks of “Babylon the Great.” * (Revelation 18:2-4, 23) Keep in mind, too, that Jehovah observed firsthand the disgusting pagan religious practices from which many popular customs originated. No doubt he finds such celebrations just as offensive today. Should not his view be what matters most to us?—2 John 6, 7.
4 As true Christians, we know that certain celebrations are not pleasing to Jehovah. But we need to be firmly determined in our heart to have absolutely nothing to do with them. A review of why Jehovah is displeased with such celebrations will strengthen our resolve to avoid anything that might hinder us from remaining in God’s love.
CHRISTMAS—SUN WORSHIP RENAMED
5. Why can we be certain that Jesus was not born on December 25?
5 The Bible makes no mention of a birthday celebration for Jesus. In fact, his exact birth date is unknown. We can be sure, though, that he was not born on December 25 in the cold of winter in that part of the world. * For one thing, Luke recorded that when Jesus was born, “shepherds [were] living out of doors” minding their flocks. (Luke 2:8-11) If “living out of doors” had been their habit year round, that would not have been noteworthy. However, because Bethlehem is subject to cold rains and snow, flocks were wintered under cover and shepherds would not have been “living out of doors.” Additionally, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had ordered a census. (Luke 2:1-7) It is highly unlikely that Caesar would have commanded a people who were resentful of Roman rule to travel to their ancestral cities in the dead of winter.
6, 7. (a) The roots of many Christmas customs can be found where? (b) What contrast can be seen between Christmas giving and Christian giving?
6 The roots of Christmas are found, not in Scripture, but in ancient pagan festivals, such as the Roman Saturnalia, a celebration dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture. Likewise, according to their reckoning, devotees of the god Mithra celebrated December 25 as the “birthday of the invincible sun,” says the New Catholic Encyclopedia. “Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome,” about three centuries after the death of Christ.
True Christians give out of love
7 During their celebrations, pagans exchanged gifts and feasted—practices that Christmas preserved. As is also true today, however, much Christmas giving was not in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 9:7, which reads: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” True Christians give out of love, their giving is not tied to a date, and they expect no gifts in return. (Luke 14:12-14; read Acts 20:35.) Moreover, they deeply appreciate being set free from the Christmas frenzy and relieved of the heavy yoke of financial debt that many incur at that time of year.—Matthew 11:28-30; John 8:32.
8. Did the astrologers present birthday gifts to Jesus? Explain.
8 But, some may argue, did not the astrologers present birthday gifts to Jesus? No. Their gift-giving was simply a way of paying their respects to a person of note, a common custom in Bible times. (1 Kings 10:1, 2, 10, 13; Matthew 2:2, 11) In fact, they did not even come on the night that Jesus was born. Jesus was, not a babe in a manger, but many months old and living in a house when they arrived.
BIBLICAL LIGHT ON BIRTHDAYS
9. What is significant about birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible?
9 Even though the birth of a baby has always been a cause for much joy, the Bible makes no reference to a birthday celebration for a servant of God. (Psalm 127:3) Was this simply an oversight? No, for two birthday celebrations are mentioned—that of a Pharaoh of Egypt and that of Herod Antipas. (Read Genesis 40:20-22; Mark 6:21-29.) Both events, however, are presented in a bad light—especially the latter, which saw John the Baptizer beheaded.
10, 11. How did the early Christians view birthday celebrations, and why?
10 “The early Christians,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.” The ancient Greeks, for instance, believed that each person had a protective spirit that attended the person’s birth and thereafter watched over him. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays. Birthdays also have a long-standing and an intimate link with astrology and the horoscope.
11 Besides rejecting birthday customs on account of pagan and spiritistic roots, God’s servants of old likely rejected them on principle as well. Why? These were humble, modest men and women who did not view their arrival in the world as so important that it should be celebrated. * (Micah 6:8; Luke 9:48) Rather, they glorified Jehovah and thanked him for the precious gift of life. *—Psalm 8:3, 4; 36:9; Revelation 4:11.
12. How can the day of our death be better than the day of our birth?
12 At death, all integrity keepers are safe in God’s memory, and their future life is guaranteed. (Job 14:14, 15) Says Ecclesiastes 7:1: “A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death is better than the day of birth.” Our “good name” is the good reputation we have gained with God through faithful service. Significantly, the only commemoration commanded for Christians involves, not a birth, but a death—that of Jesus, whose excellent “name” is the key to our salvation.—Hebrews 1:3, 4; Luke 22:17-20.
EASTER—FERTILITY WORSHIP IN DISGUISE
13, 14. What are the roots of popular Easter customs?
13 Promoted as a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Easter is actually rooted in false religion. The name Easter itself has been linked to Eostre, or Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn and of spring. And how did eggs and rabbits come to be associated with Easter? Eggs “have been prominent as symbols of new life and resurrection,” says the Encyclopædia Britannica, while the hare and the rabbit have long served as symbols of fertility. Easter, therefore, is really a fertility rite thinly disguised as a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. *
14 Would Jehovah condone the use of a filthy fertility rite to commemorate his Son’s resurrection? Never! (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18) In fact, the Scriptures neither command nor authorize the commemorating of Jesus’ resurrection in the first place. To do so in the name of Easter, therefore, is to be doubly disloyal.
HALLOWEEN IS FAR FROM HOLY
15. What is the origin of Halloween, and what may be significant about the date chosen to celebrate this holiday?
15 Known for its witches, goblins, and other grotesque decorations and paraphernalia, Halloween—also called All Hallows’ Eve or the eve of All Saints’ Day—can be traced back to the ancient Celts of Britain and Ireland. On the full moon nearest November 1, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, meaning “Summer’s End.” They believed that during Samhain, the veil between the human and the supernatural worlds was parted and that spirits, both good and evil, roamed the earth. The souls of the dead were thought to return to their homes, and families would put out food and drink for their ghostly visitors in hopes of appeasing them. Thus, when children today, dressed as ghosts or witches, go from house to house threatening a mischievous trick unless they receive a treat, they unwittingly perpetuate the rituals of Samhain.
KEEP YOUR WEDDING UNDEFILED
16, 17. (a) Why should Christian couples planning to get married examine local wedding customs in the light of Bible principles? (b) In regard to such customs as throwing rice or its substitutes, what should Christians take into consideration?
16 Soon, “no voice of a bridegroom and of a bride will ever be heard in [Babylon the Great] again.” (Revelation 18:23) Why? In part because of her spiritistic practices, which can defile a marriage right from the wedding day.—Mark 10:6-9.
17 Customs vary from country to country. Some customs that may appear innocent may have their roots in Babylonish practices that are supposed to bring ‘good luck’ to the bridal couple or their guests. (Isaiah 65:11) One such tradition involves the throwing of rice or its substitutes. This practice may have had its roots in the notion that food appeased evil spirits and kept them from doing injury to the bride and groom. Additionally, rice has a long mystical association with fertility, happiness, and longevity. Clearly, all who want to remain in God’s love will shun such tainted customs.—Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
18. What Bible principles should guide both the couple planning a wedding and those invited to attend?
18 Servants of Jehovah likewise refrain from worldly practices that may rob weddings and wedding receptions of Christian dignity or that may offend the conscience of some. For example, they avoid giving speeches tainted with hurtful sarcasm or sexual innuendos and refrain from practical jokes or remarks that can embarrass the newlyweds and others. (Proverbs 26:18, 19; Luke 6:31; 10:27) They also avoid lavish fairy-tale receptions that reflect, not modesty, but “the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16) If you are planning a wedding, never forget that Jehovah wants your special day to be something you can always look back on with joy, not regret. *
TOASTING—A RELIGIOUS GESTURE?
19, 20. What does one secular source say about the origin of toasting, and why is this custom unacceptable to Christians?
19 A common practice at weddings and on other social occasions is 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 . . . in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!’”
20 True, many people may not consciously view toasting as a religious or superstitious gesture. Still, the custom of lifting wine glasses heavenward might be viewed as a request to “heaven”—a superhuman force—for a blessing in a way that does not accord with that outlined in the Scriptures.—John 14:6; 16:23. *
“YOU WHO LOVE JEHOVAH, HATE WHAT IS BAD”
21. Even though they may not have a religious theme, what popular celebrations would Christians avoid, and why?
21 Reflecting the plummeting standards of today’s world—a trend promoted either directly or indirectly by Babylon the Great—some countries sponsor annual carnivals or Mardi Gras, festivals that feature lewd dancing and that may even celebrate gay and lesbian lifestyles. Would it be appropriate for those who love Jehovah to attend or view such an event? Would their doing so reflect a genuine hatred for what is bad? (Psalm 1:1, 2; 97:10) How much better to imitate the attitude of the psalmist who prayed: “Turn my eyes away from looking at what is worthless”!—Psalm 119:37.
22. When might a Christian decide according to his own conscience whether he will share in a celebration or not?
22 On the days of worldly celebrations, a Christian would be careful that his conduct not give others the impression that he is joining in the celebration. “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else,” wrote Paul, “do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31; see the box “Making Wise Decisions.”) On the other hand, if a custom or a celebration clearly retains no false religious significance, is not part of a political or patriotic observance, and violates no Bible principles, then each Christian might make a personal decision as to whether he will share in it. At the same time, he would consider the feelings of others so as not to become a cause for stumbling.
GLORIFY GOD IN WORD AND DEED
23, 24. How might we give a good witness concerning Jehovah’s righteous standards?
23 Many people view the days of certain popular celebrations primarily as opportunities for family and friends to get together. Thus, if someone wrongly assumes that our Scriptural stand is unloving or extreme, we can kindly explain that Jehovah’s Witnesses value wholesome gatherings of family and friends. (Proverbs 11:25; Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13; 2 Corinthians 9:7) We enjoy fellowship with loved ones throughout the year, but because of our love for God and for his righteous standards, we do not want to tarnish such happy occasions with customs that offend him.—See the box “True Worship Brings the Greatest Joy.”
24 Some Witnesses have had good success in sharing with sincere inquirers points from chapter 16 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? * Remember, though, that our goal is to win hearts, not arguments. So be respectful, maintain a mild temper, and “let your words always be gracious, seasoned with salt.”—Colossians 4:6.
25, 26. How can parents help their children to grow in faith and love for Jehovah?
25 As Jehovah’s servants, we are well-informed. We know why we believe and practice certain things and abstain from others. (Hebrews 5:14) So parents, teach your children to reason on Bible principles. By doing so, you build up their faith, you help them to give Scriptural answers to those who question their beliefs, and you assure them of Jehovah’s love.—Isaiah 48:17, 18; 1 Peter 3:15.
26 All who worship God “with spirit and truth” not only avoid unscriptural celebrations but also strive to be honest in every aspect of life. (John 4:23) Today, many view honesty as impractical. But as we shall see in the next chapter, God’s ways are always the best.
^ par. 5 Based on Biblical reckoning and secular history, Jesus was likely born in 2 B.C.E. in the Jewish month of Ethanim, which corresponds to September/October on our present calendar.—See Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 56-57, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 11 The Law covenant required that a woman, after giving birth, present a sin offering to God. (Leviticus 12:1-8) A poignant reminder that humans pass sin on to their children, this legal requirement helped the Israelites to have a balanced view of the birth of a child and may have discouraged them from adopting pagan birthday customs.—Psalm 51:5.
^ par. 13 Eostre (or Eastre) was also a fertility goddess. According to The Dictionary of Mythology, “she owned a hare in the moon which loved eggs and she was sometimes depicted as having the head of a hare.”
^ par. 24 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.