For people of some religious faiths, including an estimated 1 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States, Dec. 25 is just another day.
Jehovah’s Witnesses has several congregations in Hall County and Northeast Georgia, including a growing number of Hispanic congregations.
In some areas, multiple congregations meet in the same building, known as a Kingdom Hall.
Philip Sperber of Lula is an elder in one of the congregations meeting at the Kingdom Hall on Old Cornelia Highway near Lula.
A native of New Jersey, Sperber grew up in a Presbyterian family, but became a Witness in 1969.
He estimates about 70 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses converted from other religious backgrounds, many of them Protestant or Catholic. He said the Christmas season sometimes creates an awkward situation when other family members are not Witnesses.
“I may go to a store and start humming the Christmas music because I recognize it from growing up,” Sperber said.
Not celebrating holidays is not just true for Christmas, but for every American holiday including Labor Day, New Year’s, Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.
The only observance of the Witnesses is an annual memorial service to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ.
The modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses began toward the end of the 19th century with a small group of Bible students near Pittsburgh.
In 1879, they began publishing the Bible journal now called “The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.”
Known simply as “The Watchtower,” it is published in more than 140 languages and is the world’s most widely circulated religious magazine.
The name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted in 1931. Previously, they were known as International Bible Students.
Sperber says he is cordial when others wish him a “Merry Christmas,” responding with a polite “thank you.”
But he contends and cites multiple Bible translations, including one used primarily by Jehovah’s Witnesses, as evidence that today actually is months from the biblical accounts of Christ’s birth.
“In Luke, it says that shepherds were in the field,” Sperber said. “If you were from New York or New Jersey, you wouldn’t find people camping out in the open in December and neither would they over there (Israel).”
Sperber said that Jesus was specific in his directions about observances.
“When he gave the memorial of his death, Jesus said, ‘Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ So he wanted us to remember his death, not his birth. His birth was so obscure in the Bible that no one could tell you when it was.”
Many Witnesses distribute various documents regarding their religion and beliefs. This is often done door to door.
Sperber said some publishers will attempt visits on Christmas Day, not in defiance of the holiday, but at a time when they are likely to find people at home.
Sperber said most people are polite even when observing Christmas. He occasionally is met with hostility.
Any person who becomes a member of the religious order is a Witness. Others progress to levels such as publisher, pioneer or elder.
No one involved in the religion is compensated for their work. They maintain outside employment while satisfying the requirements for service.
The 2005 report of Jehovah’s Witnesses showed that the 1 million U.S. Witnesses devoted 185 million hours to preaching. There are 6.4 million Witnesses worldwide in 230 countries.
Dec. 25, 2006