This story is posted for those who have had a hard time observing Christmas again and feel grieved in what their children lost and what they lost. Its purpose is not to make anyone feel guilty, or to think they now need to observe this holiday. Exiters are free to decide whether they want to observe it, or exactly how they want to observe it. Christ accepts us on the basis of His righteousness and, as a result, of His once for all atoning sacrifice for us, not because of any works on our part.
I’ve gone through a lot of sick feelings1 in regard to Christmas. By “sick” I mean not feeling good emotionally. I know that I, like many other exiters, jumped into Christmas too soon and too fast, and later went backwards with the entire situation. I want to tell you about what it has been like for me to try to connect back to observing it in my own household after exiting, and how it has caused me to later grieve certain things.
When December rolled around (after leaving the group), I thought about keeping Christmas. I knew it wasn’t wrong to spend time with our families at that time of year, but it was hard after almost thirty years of not observing it to start up again. I ended up sending out lots of cards that first year to people–a number of them to people I hardly knew at my new church. But I felt good doing it. Finally, about two years later, I decided to buy my first small (4 foot) artificial tree and dressed it to the max, over-covering it with long icicles and blinking lights. I baked cookies, wrapped a few presents for my husband, and taped cards to the wall when they arrived. (I know now I was trying to recreate the time I remembered from my childhood.) I began to notice, however, that with each year I started to feel “sicker” with all of it. Even getting out a box of cards and attempting to address them was causing me to experience very pressuring feelings. After Christmas was over with, I felt the need to take everything down as quickly as I could.
As a child, I experienced simple, happy memories of Christmas, but none of it seemed to connect with what I was trying to do now. All I was aware of was the “sick” feelings arising every Christmas when I began to involve myself in it. So I decided I didn’t want to take any decorations out until about one or two weeks before Christmas, put up very few, and then take them down the day after Christmas and get them out of my sight since they were beginning to look gaudy in my mind. I would even switch sometimes to a one foot high Christmas tree on a stand instead of decorating the larger one. I doubted I would ever feel any different and wondered if it was worth it all.
I now am sure that the reason I experienced these feelings was because of all the years that HWA and his ministers drilled into my head, year after year, article after article, sermon after sermon, about Christmas being “a sin” how it “came from paganism” and was “selfish.” I trained myself to look the other way when I saw decorated trees or Christmas lights and presents. I even remember how the set-up crew in our congregation would place folding French doors every December in front of the Christmas tree (that the school put up), in order that no member–especially the children–would stare at it during the sermon. To look at it was “evil” they said. Once, when driving past a Christmas tree, my children suddenly said, “Look, how beautiful!” I told them not to look at it. I was afraid of a tree and what it might do to our minds.
I felt if I put everything about “Christmas” out of my mind that this time of year would pass quicker so I could get back to “normal.” I would quickly turn the radio or TV off if I heard Christmas carols being played. I had to make sure nothing of Christmas whatsoever entered my mind. After all, it was “a materialistic, pagan day” and I could hardly wait until it was over with. I felt the people who bought presents were “covetous and greedy.” I knew nothing about quiet family gatherings of those who kept it simple and who shared some of their abundance at that time with the poor and needy. I taught my children that it was all based on “lies.” I knew nothing about those who used the season as an opportunity to share Jesus and His love and salvation to lost souls.
This is not to say that Christmas has always been enjoyable for families that were outside “the church.” I know now that even other cults and strict religious churches torment their children by telling them they “won’t receive any presents if they are bad.” Much misery surrounds every holiday–and every holy day we observed. How many remember fights at the Feast of Tabernacles? (the time of the year that was supposed to be the “happiest”) Weren’t there bad incidences that took place in motel rooms, or in vehicles, that no one else knew about? How many got drunk at the Feast, or even drank too much? How many overate? How many didn’t want to go to services or visit others because they were too tired, or just wanted to be alone? How many were treated badly by their “true church family”? How many really were alone emotionally at the Feast and no one understood that loneliness, or the trials they were going through? It’s not just at Christmas that these things happen, and it’s not just the “Santa Claus lie” that damages children. It’s a lack of love and mercy that damages others.
I remember a WCG member one time making fun of Christmas and saying that “after it’s over with, everything just stops.” What did she think happened at the Feast? We also acted in similar ways like people did at Christmas time: buying presents, shopping in ritzy stores after we arrived, getting together with “family,” acting happy, spending lots of money, eating many fine dainties–and when the Feast was over with, everything also came to an end (“just stopped”). Yet, on the other hand, Christmas doesn’t really “just stop.” Celebrations and decorations begin as early as December 1st and the entire holiday season continues until New Years. But many members were so full of criticism and pride toward other Christians outside of “God’s church” that they couldn’t see themselves.
When my children were young, my mother would mail our kids presents every December for them. She knew I didn’t observe Christmas so she didn’t wrap them in Christmas paper, but I think she was hoping they might receive at least some little present beforehand. And what did I do? I hid those presents until January and gave them to them then. How foolish and how wrong that was!–not only to my mother who loved me, but to my children. I couldn’t see how I was allowing a “day” to come between myself and my true family who continued to love me all the years I was in the “cult.” I hindered my own children from having the happy times I had remembered as a child.
For many years after leaving the group, the Christmas season was a time when I experienced deep feelings of grief because of knowing what I had deprived my children of all those years. I later apologized to each of them in a heartfelt way and they understood, but it was too late to give them the fun, innocence, and wonderment I experienced when young, not only at Christmas but on every holiday. No one but a loving God could really understand these feelings of grief and sorrow that weighed me down and “sickened” me even more.
Christmas is especially a time for children. I remember a doll and a doll house with toy people that I played with for hours. I remember a purple satin dress for church, a monkey my grandmother made out of socks, and a wonderful small, toy piano. These were all sitting out under the tree when I came down the stairs on Christmas day. I remember the toy xylophone which I took up to my bedroom that day and played on it “Joy to the World” (following the notes from a small booklet that came with it). The stocking I had hung was filled with oranges, nuts and fancy candy. The house smelled of evergreen and we always delighted in the tree my dad brought home. As a child, it was the most wonderful day of the year for me and I waited in anticipation for it to arrive. How could any of this that only brought joy be “foolishness” or “evil?” After leaving the group, I’ve had to face the memories of a wasted past and what I failed to give my children. My children were never told about how Jesus came to die for them that they might have eternal life. They were only told how “bad” Christmas was and how “good” “God’s church” was. My children missed out on the most important gift of all and that was telling them about Jesus and His love.
A good memory I have is the year before I got married when I was sitting alone in my family’s living room in December, with only the lights from the Christmas tree blinking beautifully, and everything very quiet and peaceful; the tree rosin smelling so nice. I was looking at the tree but I was thinking about how Christmas was really supposed to be all about Jesus coming to earth to be our Savior. I wish I had those days back. My husband and I only had three Christmases together before hearing HWA on the radio say it was “pagan” and shouldn’t be kept. (I remember how we later hauled everything to the dumpster.)
Christmas time can often be very sad and lonely. I have memories of my parents making it such a wonderful time when I was little, and how much joy I felt. But they are now no longer alive. Only Christ can truly lift our burdens and give us peace in spite of all we’ve lost.
Today I continue working toward making Christmas a simple, but happy time in my house–a time for togetherness and peace with those I love. I buy only a few presents and send out few cards. Christmas carols and music don’t bother me like they once did. I can choose what to listen to.
I decorated the tree differently this year (blue and white) and when I look at it, it doesn’t bother me. It’s only a tree. As each Christmas rolls around, the “sick” feelings fade more and more into the background, but I will always remember the happy Christmases I had when young and what I threw away by being in “God’s church.” I am getting beyond the grief created by Herbert Armstrong and his damaging lies. I have begun anew with each of my children. We are a closer family today and they are now enjoying with their children what they never had growing up. The present moment and my unconditional love toward them is what counts in the end.
By L. F. (former WCG member)
Exit & Support Network™
December 1, 2003
Updated: December 10 2009
UPDATE: December 24, 2020: Since I first wrote this, I no longer have those sick feelings at Christmas time, but the longing and sadness I feel for my loved ones (most who now are gone) and those happy times we spent together, will always be remembered. God understands our pain and loneliness and is with us in it.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish,
but have everlasting life.” ~John 3:16
Note from ESN: If any survivor has had questions or concerns about Christmas being pagan, read: Should we observe “pagan” holidays? (Q&A)