Friday, April 19, 2013

Birthday Celebrations

Most people find it odd that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays. I know I did. Even though birthdays had lost any significance to me long before I started talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was one thing to personally pass on the matter; it was another to discover that a particular religion actually believed it was wrong to engage in the practice.

It’s not often I get asked about the belief—the last time was about seven years ago. My immediate supervisor had just circulated a birthday card for one of our co-workers and I found it on my chair covered over with other papers. Without saying anything, I took it back to my supervisor and placed it on his chair. I guess he must have looked at it because he came up to me and asked why I didn't sign it. I told him it had to do with my understanding of some Bible verses and asked him if he’d like me to explain. He said “not at this time.” Months later he came up to me and brought up the subject again.

I asked him if he’d ever had someone in his life that he loved so dearly that he paid very close attention to everything they did and did not do—someone he wanted very much to please. Maybe it was a grandparent, maybe a best friend, maybe a girl friend. Maybe it was something simple like every time you and that person went to a restaurant, he (or she) never put ketchup on a hamburger when everyone else did. And then at gatherings, when everyone else was passing around the ketchup, he always passed it on without using it. Even though that person never said anything, you came to realize that there is something about ketchup that he does not like. My boss said he hadn't observed that quiet disdain before, but he could accept that such a scenario is feasible.

I then told him that there is nothing specifically in the Bible promoting or condemning birthday celebrations. However, there are two indicators about how God might feel about birthdays. The first is that for all the hundreds of years and dozens of faithful men and women recounted in scripture, none are ever recorded as annually commemorating their birth. There are only two mentions of birthdays in the Bible and those are of rulers who did not worship the God of the Bible. In both instances, as part of the celebration, a murder was committed. In the second instance, the murder was of John the Baptist, a faithful servant of God and cousin to Jesus. The second indicator is how God perceives the importance of a person’s birth.

I then told my supervisor that based on those scriptures, and the complete lack of any indication that any faithful servant of God ever commemorated an annual remembrance of their birth, I felt the safe course to take in pleasing God was to avoid birthday celebrations. I assured him I would never interfere with the team’s activities in that vein nor would I ever make anyone feel bad because of my beliefs. He understood my viewpoint and thanked me for explaining it.

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