Exiters who raised children in the Worldwide Church of God are faced with many challenges, and whether to observe Christmas is one of them. Celebrating Christmas was never an option while in the organization, and conscientious parents made sure their children were “trained” to avoid this holiday like the plague.
We knew parents who diligently taught their children that Christmas was “pagan,” the Christmas tree was “an abomination,” and “Santa Claus” was really “Satan Claus” cleverly disguised. Parents would speak to school teachers, informing them that their children were not participate in school plays, parties, or gift exchanges. Relatives would be informed that participation in family celebrations was no longer an option. Parents truly believed they were honoring God by doing these things.
When we left the Worldwide Church of God, we had two small children. For years, we avoided “family celebrations”; however, we would attend a “family dinner” on Christmas Eve “out of respect” but would leave immediately afterwards. Our relatives were careful to not give us gifts, or else they would wrap them in non-Christmas paper and we would take them home and open them up a week later.
We were determined not to compromise our beliefs, and even though our relatives went out of their way to be kind, there was still a great sadness that hung in the air when we left. They felt the pain of never getting to see their little grandchildren celebrate Christmas together as a family. Both my in-laws passed away before we exited the WCG, never being able to experience the joy of their grandchildren celebrating Christmas.
After exiting, my husband and I still were not comfortable with Christmas, even though we knew the WCG was a “cult” and Herbert Armstrong had lied. We did not have a tree that first year, but when we got together with relatives for the Christmas Eve dinner, we stayed and allowed the kids to exchange and open presents. I have pictures of this joyful event. My kids adjusted fine. It was more my discomfort that persisted. It was a mixture of grief for having denied them Christmas, and confusion over my previous convictions. Hadn’t I proven that Christmas was wrong? What exactly did I prove that I based such intense convictions? Thus began our family journey away from cult isolation and into the light of truth.
It was a gradual process to bring Christmas back into our family. The following year, the kids wanted to know if we were going to have a nice tree “like Aunt Sharon’s.” I bought a small tree and put it out on the back deck. I let the kids decorate it with popcorn strings and pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed. I told the kids that we were giving the birds a Christmas gift. Even though the kids enjoyed watching the birds eating from the tree, I still couldn’t bring myself to allow a tree into the house, mostly out of fear. I was afraid that God would be so displeased with me for allowing an “idol” in my house, and I was especially afraid that something bad would happen to my kids if I did.
I was getting tired of the fear. That’s when I decided to get “educated” about Christmas. Was it really as bad as Herbert Armstrong said? When I realized that he purposely “poisoned” my mind, so that I would completely reject it by focusing on the “spending, drinking, going into debt, etc.,” it suddenly occurred to me how he never focused on Jesus! That was a huge revelation for me. Once I focused on Jesus and His love for us, and quit focusing on what HWA said, and his critical antagonism, my life began to change (for the better!).
During this process, I discovered that Christians do not go into debt, worship their Christmas trees, get drunk, and all the other sins HWA made us believe. Yes, some do, but many don’t (of course, HWA wouldn’t focus on that). Christians also go to church and sing hymns and worship and glorify God for sending us our wonderful Savior! They give out food for the poor, and gifts to underprivileged children. I can’t imagine HWA stooping to do anything kind for anyone (unless there was some big $$$ involved).
The following Christmas I put up a tree in the living room. I told my kids, “We used to believe that celebrating Christmas was wrong, but now we know better. Some people believe this (and then I give HWA’s arguments) but now I understand much better that he was wrong.” Then I explain the correct view while adding, “I know we didn’t used to do this when you were young but when I realized I was wrong, I decided I was going to change that.” My husband and I still don’t believe or teach about Santa Clause–nor do we call him “Satan” Clause, or any such foolishness. I told the kids about St. Nicholas, after whom Santa is supposedly patterned. We discussed the commercialism of Christmas, and told them that we didn’t have to buckle to the pressure of overspending. The dollar amount spent was no reflection of the amount of love one should feel. Spending money to gain approval is clearly wrong. We taught the kids to set a spending limit and stick with it.
We use this time of year as an opportunity to teach our children proper giving. We teach them by our actions that drunkenness does not have to be a part of our celebrations (nor alcohol for that matter). We also chose not to emphasize Santa in our holiday celebrations. We tell them that their relatives buy them all those nice gifts and we are to thank them for sending them. They should get the credit, and not some mythical person. We tell them that some people enjoy the “magic of Santa” but it’s just not for us. As our kids got older, we explained that the verses in Jeremiah 10:3-4 are referencing idol worship and not the Christmas tree. We use Christmas as an opportunity to “cult-proof” our kids by letting them know that most Bible-based cults avoid Christmas so they can avoid focusing on Jesus. We also open our home to those who have nowhere to go. We invite people over for dinner so they don’t have to be alone.
I think as each year went by, we tried to focus as much on Jesus as we could. I realized that Jesus observed the festival of Hanukkah (He was in the temple during the Festival of Lights). Hanukkah celebrates the ousting of Antiochus Epiphanes and the pagans from the temple, and how the temple was cleansed. The temple was overrun on December 25th (which HWA and other Bible-based cult groups will point out), but what they don’t tell us is that exactly 3 years later, the Jews succeeded in reclaiming the temple (Kislev 25), so there is biblical basis for the observation of December 25th. It wasn’t just a pagan date. Christmas is not as pagan as Herbert Armstrong tried to make it. Jesus wasn’t ever in HWA’s Christmas because he didn’t want Him to be.
We have slowly evaluated and added meaningful traditions to our family. We realized that Christmas can be as complicated or as simple as one desires. As I dealt with each issue, I prayed for the Lord’s guidance to help me. We concentrate on what’s important–Jesus our Lord–and that He came as our Savior.
Let the Lord Jesus lead your heart at this time of year (something that HWA would never allow us to do). Know that all you do in love honors Him!
Exit & Support Network™
Any Ideas to Help Children Overcome Fear of Armstrong Teachings? (December 3, 2004 letter to ESN)
For more articles on Christmas go to Should we observe “pagan” holidays? (Q&A)