Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Pagan" Events — Then and Now

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 to for all her students and younger brothers and sisters to color. I looked over to see that Andy was coloring his cow in polka dots. I thought his picture was so great that I asked the teacher for another picture so that I could 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.
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 said it was okay. She put our 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 costumes come from?
"Where is my costume?" I asked the teacher.
The 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. I proudly modeled the paper skirt to my brother, Ritchie, who 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 and 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 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. When 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 and 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 disappointed 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 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 the Bible 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 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. I thought it was safe, since my dad had gone to visit one of the neighbors.
Mom sat down at the table and said she would have some tea with me, but it wasn't a birthday party because we weren't allowed to celebrate birthdays. "God would see and he would not be pleased," she shook her head, disapprovingly.
I sat at the table, ashamed. I hoped God didn't see me celebrating my birthday. I felt guilty for my selfishness.
From then on, I tried harder to be a good girl so I could live in that happy paradise where all the good people would live someday. Even though, at school, Vicky said our family was going to hell because we didn't go to her church on Sunday. She also informed me that her religion was the truth and ours was false.
"Are we Catholic?" I asked my dad at our next bible study session. "Could we go to Vicky's church?"
"No, we are not Catholic! Vicky has a false religion!" my dad bellowed. "See the churches in the Paradise book? See what is happening to them?"
"What religion are we?" I asked.
"We are Jehovah's Witnesses," my dad announced.
I didn't answer. I was too scared to tell him I wanted to be a Catholic. He would have beaten it out of me. I looked again at the pictures of the steeples getting struck with lightning. That surely meant that God was going to destroy all the churches, including Vicky's church. I was taught that we alone were the only "true Christians." Everyone else who does not belong to our religion was wicked, under Satan's control and would soon be destroyed by God. The Paradise book graphically depicted God destroying all those "unbelievers" at Armageddon.
Every kind of terror would be used to destroy this sinful world — lashing rains, floods, earthquakes, giant hailstorms and a rain of fire. There will be a terror on the land, terror on the sea and terror in the air. With shocking surprise Armageddon will catch all those persons outside the New World society — namely Jehovah's Witnesses.
Soul-chilling terror will spread through the masses of people so that they would lose control of themselves; they would begin killing one another — but their selfish fight to live would be all in vain. Those who escape being killed by their neighbors would be destroyed by God's heavenly armies. God's angels would smite all the opposers of God's kingdom and his kingdom witnesses with a terrible destruction.
A flesh-eating plague would destroy many. Eaten up would be the tongues of those who scoffed and laughed at the warning of Armageddon! Eaten up would be the eyes of those who refused to see the sign of the time of the end! Eaten up would be the flesh of those who refused to learn that the living and true God is named Jehovah! Eaten up while they stand on their feet! Dead bodies would be strewn everywhere — from end to end — of the earth. Ungathered, unburied, and unwept for — the bodies will be like so much fertilizer on the ground.
Worms will not stop swarming over the millions of bodies until the last body is eaten up. Birds and beasts also will eat their fill of human flesh until nothing is left but bones.—From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. (1958) Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society of New York. pp. 208-9.
The book goes into great detail describing how Jehovah would murder every man, woman, boy and girl on the face of the earth except good Jehovah's Witnesses. The god of the Watchtower would only spare those who attend the Kingdom Hall regularly, go from door to door, and study Watchtower books.
This new-found knowledge about our different religions became a bone of contention with Vicky and me. I couldn't imagine my dad and mom being tricked about such an important matter.
Vicky told me she was going to grow up and be a nun. I did not know what a nun was, so I asked her. She gave me a book to read. I tried to read it, and realized that the nuns seemed to have a very hard life and I didn't think it was for me. I wanted to be Vicky's friend, though, so one day I announced to her, "I'm a Catholic now."
"No you aren't!" Vicky retorted.
I wished I were a Catholic. On the weekends I played with my Barbie and thought about Vicky. She got to celebrate her birthday and Christmas. She got presents and ate Japanese oranges wrapped in pretty green tissue paper.
Our religion was no fun. We couldn't celebrate birthdays, we couldn't dress up at Halloween and now we could not celebrate Christmas anymore, either.
While deep in thought, I forgot and left the Barbie doll on the table where my dad sat down to read his Bible or write a letter or pay bills. He was very angry about something that day, and he flung my precious Barbie across the room. My heart broke and I watched in horror as my Barbie's head and body flew in two different directions." ~~ excerpt from my upcoming book, Phoenix of Faith.
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 candy and small bags of 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 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."
It is sad that these laws get handed down generationally.
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. 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 fear-based beliefs.

Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2010. Permission is granted to copy and re-distribute this transmission on the condition that it is distributed freely.


  1. Thanks for sharing your heart-felt insights, Esther.

    I had no idea of the depth of pain you feel from your childhood and am so glad that you have found strength and happiness in the present.

    We learn from the past, live in the present and look forward to the future.

    Blessings to you,

  2. Hi Doreen,
    Thanks for posting your comment. I appreciate the support. Going public with my past feels like "coming out." Indeed, I have received much encouragement to write about the past and thus heal from it.
    Love and hugs,

  3. Mean people with wrong headed ideas should not be allowed to become parents. I want governments to standardize the qualifications for parenthood, conduct testing, and licence human fertility. Don’t worry, god will approve. No more FLDS, Taliban or JW procreation thank you!

  4. Thanks for writing, fredshmed. Admittedly and unfortunately, children receive the brunt of parental abuse in the name of god. We have likely all heard the expression, "it takes a license to drive a car, but any fool can become a parent." True, many conscientious parents take parenting classes because they want to be loving and effective parents. I appreciate their openness and willingness to learn.

    Religions teach their own "conditioned" version of parenting, but those are not standardized. In fact, these parenting views are slanted to reflect the often warped teachings of the religion. For example, the JWs have their own JW books about family life to completely "regulate" their members.
    Glad to have you aboard!