A couple weeks ago, an assistant producer from the Nickelodeon kid’s show “NickMom”, contacted me via e-mail. She was working on the premise of covering how different people in differing religious cultures celebrate birthdays. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are known for not celebrating, she was interested in meeting families who had come out of the Watchtower but now celebrate birthdays.
In reflecting on my experience coming out of the Watchtower and not celebrating, I began to think about how I felt not celebrating my birthday and not celebrating my firstborn son’s birthday for the first three years of his life.
I remember when my mother began to study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the last birthday party I celebrated was my 13th birthday. I remember having kids from my school over to my house and having a really good time. I was in the 7th grade and becoming a teenager was a big thing for me. I remember playing music on the stereo and dancing. It was a very normal time and for normal kids, a rite of passage. Little did I know that more than 10 years would pass before I would celebrate another birthday.
Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs off of the fact that only two birthdays are directly referenced in the Bible. The first one from Genesis 40:20-22:
Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.
And the second example from the New Testament in the book of Matthew 14:6-12:
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
By reading the above passages, one can ascertain that scripture is referencing Pharaoh’s birthday and Herod’s birthday as only a reference point as to mark the date and nothing else. As I have researched birthday celebrations, I have not found a history of murder taking place on birthday celebrations as way to “celebrate.” Yet the Watchtower insists that only pagans celebrate birthdays and when birthdays were celebrated, there was always a hanging or beheading!
The result is a fear of birthdays along with a fear of celebration. Parents are told not to have a cake for their children’s birthdays and should not give them gifts because after all “Jehovah” would be very displeased with those actions. Jehovah’s Witness children are not allowed to attend birthday parties of their classmates or neighbors either with stern warnings from their parents.
The Watchtower removes the joy of life from their followers. Birthdays are one way of honoring a person’s life and showing that you care about someone, whether it be your child, your spouse, or a close friend. Birthday celebrations make the recipient feel good and happy to have the people in his or her life honoring that day.
The Watchtower has inserted a needless commandment of “Thou shalt not celebrate a birthday” into their doctrine without any kind of support. Nowhere in scripture is there any hint that birthday celebrations are evil. The only evil is coming from the Watchtower itself by promoting to their followers that they should not show love to each other by recognizing birthdays and giving gifts to one another.
My mother used to tell the non JW relatives that we gave gifts year round. When I look back, I don’t think I ever received a gift from my mother after my 13th birthday. There were no more celebrations, no more birthday parties, and life became a dull monotony of Watchtower studies.
Today is kind of a birthday in a way for me because on this day, February 3, 1980, I left the Watchtower organization and became free of their control. I am very thankful that I left when I did and did not raise my son to become a Jehovah’s Witness. That same year, my then only son turned four years old, I baked a birthday cake for him for the first time, added candles and sang “Happy Birthday to you.” There was no turning back for me. I had left my family and many friends in the Watchtower, but my freedom and independent thinking to make my own free will decisions was more important. Two years later, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and thank God every day for that new birth. The Lord has guided me through and even when life was difficult because of family shunning me, I knew that I had God to love me.
I believe that God wants us to celebrate our lives and our children’s lives who are gifts to us. So if you are a former Jehovah’s Witness or even a current Jehovah’s Witness, birthday celebrating is nothing to fear. Just celebrate your child’s life and thank God for all His good gifts!