tis the season for grain alcohol and grave disappointment… well at least for Misery Bear. it seems he’s had a bit of bad luck lately, (yet still better off than some of his contemporaries). of course when i was growing up i didn’t even get the chance to look into an empty stocking or enjoy a charred holiday feast, nope. that’s because i was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and we didn’t celebrate a god damn thing. now some of you may be asking yourselves, gee, i wonder what that must have been like, it must have been so weird? well today you’re in luck because i happen to have right here a short story i recently wrote (for McSweeney’s although it was quickly dropped) about that very subject. as for the rest of you who couldn’t care less, here is something else to keep you entertained. enjoy…
What’s it like growing up a Jehovah’s Witness? Boring, definitely awkward and uncomfortable at times, but really just mostly boring. You simply had too much time on your hands not celebrating anything and all. Days, weeks, months would go by without so much as a card or piece of cake. And there were never any “big plans” to make, no surprises to throw, no fireworks to be had. Instead, you were just sitting around fearing god and waiting to go to church three times a week.
There it was even worse. Inside there was nothing to look at. No alter, no giant cross or great white Jesus, no stained glass, no windows of any kind actually, (I guess they got sick of cleaning up the broken glass), just four blank walls and a mess of uncomfortable seats. As a result, I was jealous of the Catholics for most of my childhood; they seemed to really have it all… I heard they even got free snacks in church. Later on in school when someone asked what religion I was, I’d always eagerly respond, “Catholic, yep! Our cathedral has angels and demons painted on the ceiling. It’s really something to see!”
They called our church a “Kingdom Hall,” and although to this day I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, it does seem surprisingly appropriate. For all intents and purposes it was most definitely a hall; long, open, boxy and filled with odd smelling people in formal wear. I tried and passed the time there as best I could. A favorite sport of mine was to spot and predict just who would fall asleep first, the old crusty geezer at two o’clock, or the overheated toddler in a three-piece just to my left. I got really good at this actually, and even today I can always call the precise moment when that left leaning head drift is going to give way and turn into a full-on neck dump. (This maneuver was never quite complete without the subsequent slurp of drool and roll of the eyes that always immediately followed).
Of course nobody ever really scoffed (openly) at such a display. This was primarily because eventually the Sandman got to everyone. On stage, sermons were given from our monthly periodical the Awake! magazine on staying spiritually alert. The warnings would echo out across the quiet audience as heads randomly fell, bobbing and dipping throughout the entire congregation. Every now and again things would get so bad that whole families and/or small groups of people would have to get up and quietly exit out the back to take a few laps around the building.
But despite how grueling those six hours a week could be, it was always during the holidays that the overwhelming boredom and weariness of being a Jehovah’s Witness would really set in. Winter break, (a.k.a. Christmas Break), lasted for two weeks, and while it seemed to fly by for the other kids all too fast, it seemed to span an eternity for me. Like most children I would awake early on Christmas morning. It was always tough to sleep in when you could hear the screams and giggles of the neighborhood children playing with their new toys just outside your bedroom window. “Oh look Billy, look at how fast my new shoes are!”
And so I would rise and drag myself out to my (Christmas) morning breakfast, oatmeal and a slice of toast just like any other day, and it really was just another cold, grey, winter day. Of course I prayed before I ate and gave thanks for all of the many wonderful things I had, and especially for the food I was about to eat that now somehow looked like I felt. No bother, soon enough I would be dressed and out the front door to play. I would have to remember to be extra nice even to the kids I didn’t like so I could get a turn or two playing with their new remote-controlled car or battery-operated transformer. I had to be sure to get my rounds in as soon as possible. In just a short while my brothers and sisters were sure to follow. Before long lines would be formed, and the neighborhood children were sure to be worn down quickly of the minute amount of generosity they inherently possessed.
Not celebrating Christmas as a child did have its odd advantages. After only a few days the excitement of it all seemed to fade rather quickly for most of the neighborhood children. Like a sugar rush going south, you could see the once tight expressions on their faces start to sag and soften with each passing hour. Their smiles would slowly subside as the reality and routine of their daily lives soon settled in, as did their loud, annoying, perpetually drunk relatives. At the very least, I didn’t have to go through those Santa Claus withdrawals, or the cheek-pinching humiliation that all of the best holiday movies promised those RV’s and fifth wheels that lined the street were sure to have brought along with them.
Slowly but surely my winter break would somehow pass along, and soon enough those people who were famous for nothing, you know, celebrities like Dick Clark, or Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards, would start appearing on the TV far more than they’re normally allowed. That’s how I’d know it would soon be New Years Eve. Now here was the world’s largest party, and it only happened once a year on December 31st, so you had to wait 12 months just to do that. But because of my parents beliefs they didn’t even have the common courtesy to go out to a friend’s house, party all night long, and leave the place unsupervised for us kids to enjoy. Instead it was just another numb night topped off with an episode of Murder She Wrote, (as long as it wasn’t too violent), and a scoop of orange sherbet if we were lucky.
And the next day a whole new year would magically begin void of any celebration or fanfare. After all, it was just another dull and boring day, the first of many in fact, and only 364 more to get through, each as uneventful as the next. With nothing to look forward to and nothing to celebrate, being raised a Jehovah’s Witness was never a disappointment really… definitely awkward and uncomfortable at times, but really just mostly boring.