I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness for the first fourteen years of my life, but decided to be an atheist in 1998. One of my bug bears as a child - and still as an adult, was the assumption that JW's were nasty people who didn't give their children Christmas or birthday presents.
Why are people so idiotic I often thought, do they assume that it is impossible to give presents at any other time of year? That JW's are heartless creatures who forbid all fun?
People can be pretty stupid though, and thoughtless: JW's don't celebrate Christmas and birthdays because the provenance of those celebrations are from other religions and different belief systems. Why would one religion automatically celebrate the ideas of another? Yes religions can seem similar at times, but it is a faith's right and choice to believe and act differently from another group's faith.
But back to Christmas and birthdays, was I harmed by the loss of these annual traditions? No. Not at all. The parts of my family that were JW's were giving, loving people who gave me presents just as much as any other part of my family. My nanny Brenda sent me £50 cheques three or four times a year - a fortune for a child!
She would take me out for shopping and lunch when I stayed in London, and let me go to McDonalds *every* visit even though she disliked all their food. And more importantly, she showered me with love and affection.
My aunt Jeanette is the same, we would spend regular time together doing some sort of walking or cultural activity (my kind of fun...), and we would chat for hours and hours about life. And I even stayed at her flat in London when I did my work experience at fifteen, commuting into the West End every day was the coolest thing ever!
And what even makes presents at Christmas and on a birthday necessarily special? The social custom and assumption that you have to buy something for people in your life could be a real financial issue for a poorer family, and I certainly believe the peer pressure isn't helpful for anyone.
I never felt I was given presents because it was the norm, presents were exciting because I didn't know when I was getting something, and because I didn't know what the treat might be.
This did change at age eight when we moved in with my Dad, but as he grew up the same way as me, he taught my brother and I not to expect a lorry load of presents twice a year. He even hated Father's Day: "a bunch of trumped up bullshit money making bollocks planned by the card making industry fascists," - it is a rough quote but pretty accurate!
I savour a present, a thoughtful gift, I don't want something for the sake of tradition, and I want to give others presents I've pondered over, or that I've spotted in a shop and instantly know they will love. That's the message my religious and non-religious family gave me.
I think it best to finish with a Top 5 list of the best presents I've received (that I can think of right now, please don't be offended dear family):
- Small blue vase from my Nan that I spotted in her Elmers End flat, she gave it to me as a present a few years later when she moved to Hanworth
- A sitting ceramic sheep from my Dad's girlfriend Rose, it matches the standing one in the home she shared with my Dad in Hebden Bridge
- My Nikon D5100 DSLR, suggested by my Dad, and paid for by my Dad, my husband and I
- Winnie the Pooh cook book from my aunt when I was fairly young, I've only every made one thing from it, but it makes me think of her lovely flat in Teddington and all the times we had together there
- A trip to to West Virginia to see my Dad's work place at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory - he let me stand on the big telescope!
This blog was inspired by my friend and fellow blogger Rebecca Allen, who didn't have a Christmas until she was fourteen, she has also survived.