My beloved teacher in Grade Two said if any of us had a younger brother or sister, we could bring them to school one special day. It was Halloween and I proudly invited Andy, my brother next in line. The teacher handed out a picture of a cow for all her students and guests to color. I looked over to see that Andy was coloring his cow in different-colored polka-dots. I thought his picture was so great that I asked the teacher for another picture. I wanted to color my cow with polka-dots too. The other kids thought that was just awful because real cows didn’t look like that. They were brown with white, or black and white, or beige — but never pink, blue, and green polka-dots!
Personally, I was tired of seeing brown cows and thought it was much more fun to color a cow with polka-dots. The kids teased Andy and me about it, but my teacher just smiled and said it was okay. She put our beautiful polka-dotted cows up on the wall with all the other plain brown or black cows.
The afternoon came and I looked around at all the students. They were wearing costumes. Where did all these awesome costumes come from?
“Where is my costume?” I asked the teacher.
My kind and understanding teacher chuckled when she realized I did not know the kids brought their own costumes from home. She gently asked me if I would like to wear a skirt left over from the Christmas concert. Eagerly, I accepted. Slipping the skirt on over my pants, I proudly modeled the paper skirt to my brother, Ritchie. He quickly informed me that Halloween was “wrong” and I wasn’t supposed to be dressed up in a costume. Ashamed, I returned to my seat. I loved wearing the bright red skirt with gold trim at the bottom and wasn’t about to take it off until it was time to go home. Thankfully, Ritchie and Andy did not report my violation to our dad at our next Family Bible Study session.
On special days the teacher turned on the radio at school. We listened to a program on the CBC that explained how to draw or paint or play music or sing. I looked forward to those days. I sang my little heart out and my teacher smiled. She seldom yelled, so I knew it was just fine to draw and paint and express myself. One time we were taking music and she had a whole box full of different musical instruments such as cymbals, sticks, and bells — and one coveted triangle. She explained that we were going to use these instruments for the upcoming Christmas concert. She showed us all what to do with them and how each one sounded. I immediately put up my hand and asked in my sweetest voice and best manners, “May I play the triangle, please?”
“Yes, Esther,” she said, and I beamed with happiness.
Our classroom practiced every week until the Christmas concert. I proudly chimed the triangle at just the right moments and listened — fully satisfied as it rang throughout the community hall for all to hear.
That year I got a Barbie doll for a Christmas present in the class gift draw. I adored it, and was crushed when my classmate Vicky, who drew my name for the present, disclosed to me that she really had bought the gift for her friend Judy. I was getting it only because her parents forced her give it to me instead. I was hurt because I had merely “accidentally” received a wonderful present — yet at the same time was secretly pleased because I so loved my new Barbie.
What I especially liked about the doll was that it came in a kit with some Barbie clothes and I had the pleasure of dressing her up in beautiful grown-up dresses. I never dared take that doll outside. I only played with it in the house. I had a special place in my cupboard where I kept the doll when I wasn’t playing with it.
Right after the Christmas concert that year, my dad announced that we weren’t going to go to any more Christmas concerts or get presents, because Jehovah’s Witnesses said it was wrong. “We never had Christmas at home before this, and we won’t be starting now!” My dad exclaimed in his angry tone of voice. The only Christmases I ever knew were the school concerts that we attended. I liked them because I got to play the triangle and sing pretty songs about Jesus when he was a baby.
“Birthdays are “wrong” too,” my dad declared.
Later, when I was alone with my mom, I asked her when my birthday was and she told me. Well, I kept track of the days and when my special day came, here was my chance to celebrate my birthday. I thought it was safe, since my dad had gone to visit one of the neighbors. I made a pot of tea and Mom had some of her home-made date squares on hand, so I put some out for everyone in my family and said it was my birthday, and I wanted to have a birthday party.
Mom sat down at the table. She said, I’ll have some tea with you, but it isn’t a birthday party because we aren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays. God would see and he would not be pleased,” she shook her head, disapprovingly.
I sat at the table, utterly ashamed. I hoped God didn’t see me celebrating my birthday. I felt guilty for my selfishness.
Well, that was then…
Now, my partner and I look forward to all the events such as Christmas, Halloween, Birthdays, etc. We love decorating the house with a tree, pretty lights, and presents under the tree. We even hang up Christmas stockings and fill them with all kinds of little surprises. I relish the anticipation of Christmas morning like a little child.
Answering the door on Halloween night is a joy; seeing the cute — or terrible — masks, the eager smiles and the cries of “trick or treat!” We love dressing up in a costume and handing out pre-wrapped organic candy and small bags of organic chips into the open bags that each eager child presents to us. We usually wave to the parents or caretakers, so lovingly waiting in the wings.
Yes, and birthdays, too, get my full attention. Celebrating birthdays now — mine, my partner’s, and our friends — have taught me that it is okay to spend time and money on myself. I am a person and deserve attention — and such attention is not selfish.
The Jehovah’s Witness religion teaches a hierarchy, where the self is the least important — especially for women and girls. Our job was to serve our father, husband, or God — first and foremost. No one else mattered as much as the patriarchs. Not even Mother, after all she was “just a woman” who was put on earth to serve man. My father loved the patriarchal teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as it kept my mom “in subjection.”
Third, Fourth, & Fifth Generation JWs
It is sad that these bizarre religious laws get handed down generationally. I was a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness. My children are fourth. My grandchildren are fifth generation in training, if it is to be carried on into the future. I sincerely wish for my children to wake up before that evil gets carried any further into the future. Perhaps my grandchildren will have some lessons to teach their parents — my children!
Yes, I love celebrating these “pagan” customs, perhaps as a way to reclaim the lost years of childhood — so filled with abuse and terror. Try telling a little child in Grade Two that your best friend has the “wrong” religion and will die at Armageddon because god is going to kill her. It was traumatic for me. Seems to me my parents were conditioned to speak in a way that terrorized, rather than nurtured. I realize now that they did not know any better. I know I’ve said it before — some religions are just plain sick.
In my opinion, people choose a religion that supports their already strongly-held personal beliefs. They have no way of knowing how out-of-balance their beliefs may be, unless they are willing to ask questions and examine their beliefs — without feeling afraid of reprisals.
Sadly, as a religion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses still hold fast to terror-inducing, fear-based beliefs — even when it comes to so-called “pagan” events such as Christmas, Halloween, or birthdays.
Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: @_phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2012–Present.