Granted, not everyone celebrates the New Year by drinking heavily and committing acts of violence. Many today feel that they share in New Year’s festivities without going overboard. So why shouldn't Jehovah's Witnesses be willing to participate in New Year's customs as long as they remain moderate and self-controlled in their conduct? Because Jehovah's Witnesses also consider the origin and significance of this popular celebration.
New Year's Celebrations are Rooted in Pagan Customs
New Year's festivities are not new. Ancient inscriptions indicate that they were held in Babylon as early as the third millennium B.C.E. The celebration, which was observed in mid-March, was crucial. "At that time the god Marduk decided the destiny of the country for the coming year," says the World Book Encyclopedia. The Babylonian new year celebration lasted 11 days and included sacrifices, processions, and fertility rites.
For a time, the Romans also began their year in the month of March. But in 46 B.C.E., Emperor Julius Caesar decreed that it should begin on the first of January. That day was already dedicated to Janus, the god of beginnings, and now it would also mark the first day of the Roman year. So on the first of January, people "gave themselves up to riotous excess and various kinds of heathen superstition." - McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia
Notice what the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia says:
"In ancient Rome, the first day of the year was given over to honoring Janus, the god of gates and doors and of beginnings and endings. . . . New Year's Day became a holy day in the Christian Church in A.D. 487, when it was declared the Feast of the Circumcision. At first, parties were not allowed on this day because the pagans had followed that custom. This was gradually changed and celebrations could again be held." - Volume 14, page 237.
The Bible’s Viewpoint - Should Christians Share in New Year’s Festivities? (g02 1/8 pp. 20-21; Watchtower Online Library)
Why Do Jehovah's Witnesses Avoid Pagan Customs?
If pagan ceremonies, customs, god names, etc. are really mixed in with ceremonies, customs, etc. that we use today, they are not merely unacceptable - - - they are detestable to God. We must completely get away from these unclean things and not even "touch" them. (2 Cor. 6:17) Notice how exclusive the worship of God must be: "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips." - Exodus 23:13, NIVSB.
But some may still wonder why Jehovah's Witnesses consider customs that have pagan origins to be so bad. "After all," they may ask, "aren't there many things which originated, or are associated with paganism - pharmacies, calendars, etc.?"
Consider the two examples concerning Luke and Paul. When Luke wrote in Acts mentioning the Areopagus ('Ares Hill' - Ares is the Greek god of war; 'Mars' is the Latin god of war), he didn't feel the need to change its already established name to something no one would recognize. Furthermore, Paul actually went to this place devoted to a pagan god and preached. And Paul accepted the Areopagite, Dionysius (Greek name for 'god of wine') and had him join him - Acts 17:19-34. Luke and Paul certainly did not become participants in something associated with pagan origins.
So these necessary things are not a celebration of pagan gods. But it would be wrong to incorporate anything used for pagan worship, into our worship or related activities. Holidays, for example, are "Holy Days" and are a part of "worship", by their very name.
While we today have no practical option but to use things like the Gregorian calendar (which uses the names of pagan Roman gods), we do have a choice whether or not to participate in customs which were originally devoted to honoring these gods. And according to Scripture, we should take advantage of that choice.
Jehovah's Witnesses and the Gregorian Calendar
(Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)
Can the Pagan Customs of Christmas Really Be MADE Acceptable to God?
(Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)
Can a Pagan Holiday Be Made Christian?
(w07 12/15 pp. 8-9l; Watchtower Online Library)
But Would Having Some Fellow Christians Over To One’s Own Home on New Year’s Eve Be Wrong?
What about arranging for a group of Christians to gather together on that day because it is an occasion when they are free from secular work and are able to do so anyway? If someone is planning a gathering for December 31, or is planning to attend one, it would be good for that one to examine their motive as well as the situation involved. For instance, is the gathering being planned simply because it is New Year’s Eve? Is there special enthusiasm about the gathering because it 'just happens to fall on New Year’s Eve'? Will the planned activities mimic what the rest of the world does on that day? If so, regardless of how some may rationalize against it, it still would be a celebration of New Year’s.
However, if it is out of the proper motive for the gathering, and if their conduct in every way befits Christians, then they certainly do not need to avoid one another’s company on any day simply because it is a day that the rest of the world generally misuses. Each Christian can take into consideration their own motive in harmony with their Bible-trained conscience. (1 John 2:15-17; Rom. 14:13; 1 Tim. 1:19)
Should We Celebrate Holidays?
(bh p. 222-p. 223; Watchtower Online Library)
To those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, please remember that if you are looking for the authoritative information on Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs and practices you should look to the source at http://www.jw.org/en/.