Holy Days and Celebrations (life cycle)
The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate religious festivals which are usually marked by other Christian traditions, such as Christmas or Easter, because of their pagan undertones. Nor do members mark their own birthdays. This lack of religious or secular festivals leaves them without the liturgical calendar with which so many people, religious or not, mark their lives.
Instead, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have one annual festival which is of the utmost importance to them, although it is not considered a sacrament. It is the Memorial of Christ’s Death or the Lord’s Evening Meal, and is the commemoration of Jesus’ death and ransom sacrifice on behalf of humankind. It is comparable to the Eucharist or Holy Communion in other denominations, in which (unleavened) bread and (red) wine are shared in remembrance of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. The bread and wine are called ‘emblems’ by Jehovah’s Witnesses to signify their symbolism. This is different from Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation (where they are called ‘elements’), in which it is believed that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Nor are they consumed by the vast majority of the congregation but are rather passed around. This is because consumption of them is believed to be reserved for the chosen 144,000 who will reside with Jesus in heaven after the last days. The service also includes singing, prayer and a Bible talk.
The service takes place after sunset on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which usually corresponds to the Jewish celebration of Passover. Nisan is in March or April on the first full moon after the spring equinox. The service is held in all Kingdom Halls (though, when many congregations share a Kingdom Hall, additional facilities may be hired), and is open to the public. Members who cannot attend often have the opportunity for a live link either through a telephone or computer. Members are encouraged to bring guests and attendance at the service is higher than for other Witness services. In 2017, there were over 20 million attendees worldwide.