This Reporter curiously had access to a number of JWs. JW himself???
Jehovah's Witnesses reject many holidays and the notion that they are a dour group
By Bill Smith
Of The Post-Dispatch
12/22/2001 06:04 AM
Aaron Ealy, 5, reads the bible with his mother Janis during the Jehovah's Witness Theocratic School Wednesday at the Kingdom Hall on Park Avenue in St. Louis.
AS TANNER OSTERMANN, 9, lies nestled all snug in his bed on Christmas Eve, there will be no visions of a remote-controlled Quantasaurus Rex Megazord dancing in his head.
The St. Charles County fourth-grader isn't getting anything for Christmas -- no Hot Wheels raceway set, no Nintendo GameCube, not even a little plastic snowman Pez dispenser pushed down into the toe of a holiday stocking.
The Ostermann family has stopped short of posting a "No Trespassing" sign on their rooftop, but make no mistake: Santa and his gift-laden, pagan sleigh most definitely are unwelcome here.
That, says Tanner, is exactly the way he wants it.
"Getting presents isn't bad," said the little boy with the short yellow hair, "but the idea of celebrating something that's false, that's what kind of annoys me."
There are times, he says, when he feels a "little sorry" for his Christmas-rejoicing friends. "But I let them celebrate what they want to celebrate."
Tanner and his family are among an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the St. Louis area, people whose religious beliefs prohibit them from celebrating birthdays and most holidays, including Valentine's Day, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The holidays, they say, are not mentioned in the Bible and are not grounded in Christianity. People celebrate the holidays, they say, more out of a sense of tradition and sentimentality than to honor Jehovah, or God.
For Tanner and thousands of children like them, it means no birthday cakes, no Easter egg hunts, no Halloween costumes and no Christmas or any other traditional celebration of the winter season.
It may seem a deprived existence to many people whose lives are so linked with the trappings of the holidays.
But that, Witnesses say, is simply not the case.
"People see us as very stern and morose," says John Scott Flumerfelt, 61, a janitorial contractor and elder with the Jehovah's Witnesses Central Congregation in St. Louis. "But we are happy, optimistic."
Bill Kissell, 57, an elder in St. Charles County, says he often feels sympathy for co-workers and friends who are so caught up in the rush of the Christmas season.
"Sometimes, I pity them," said Kissell, who had a Madagascar palm tree in his dining room last week in a spot where many homes might have a freshly cut Scotch pine covered in blinking lights and ornaments. "I look at them and see all these poor, stressed-out people."
Kissell said he became a Jehovah's Witness at age 11.
"It was my decision," he said.
He remembers speaking with relatives, asking them to stop giving him gifts for Christmas, he said.
"I let them know that I was taking this very seriously," he said. "I told them I loved them, but if they continued to send gifts, I would consider it an insult."
Flumerfelt was 15 when he was baptized, he said. His parents "didn't like it."
"My father thought I was going through a phase," he said.
When he told his parents he would no longer celebrate holidays with them, they thought "I was turning my back on them," he said.
Danielle Hanks, 16, of St. Louis, a student at Parkway West High School, became a Witness about nine years ago after spending much of her childhood celebrating the season. Her mother, Andrea, said the decision to turn away from the holidays caused a rift between Andrea and Andrea's parents.
"They thought it was a horrible thing to do to their grandchild," Andrea Hanks said. Danielle said she talked to her grandmother several times about her decision and, ultimately, her grandmother came to accept Danielle's faith.
"She thinks it's great that she can take her shopping and buy her something whenever she wants to," Danielle's mother said.
Rebecca Fette, a Jehovah's Witness from St. Louis, said she ran into similar problems when she and her husband became Witnesses.
Their parents told the Fettes they felt they were depriving the children of "a happy time," they said.
Rebecca's son, David, 14, a student at
McKinley Classical Junior Academy and a lifelong Jehovah's Witness, said he never has understood the attraction of Christmas.
"It's just one day out of the year when people get presents," said David, dressed in a dark suit and tie. "You can get presents any time of the year."
David and Danielle say they have faced very few problems from their classmates - none of whom are Jehovah's Witnesses. Their teachers, for the most part, have been understanding.
Rebecca Fette says she has made it a point to seek out her children's teachers at the beginning of each school year and explain to them how Witnesses feel about holidays.
"Whenever a holiday activity came up," she said, "the kids would go to the library or we'd bring them home."
Said Trevor Ostermann, 13, Tanner's brother, "It wasn't really a big deal."
Recently, Tanner's school, Harvest Ridge Elementary School, changed the type of class parties it sponsored, his parents said.
The annual Halloween party, which had focused on costumes and Halloween-related games, became the Fall Party, with an emphasis on non-Halloween seasonal activities.
The annual Christmas party became a winter party, without Christmas lights, Christmas trees and Santa decorations.
This year, for the first time, Tanner got to remain in his class and party with his classmates.
"I had fun," he said.
Interestingly, the Ostermanns recently put small lights - similar to Christmas lights - around the deck at the back of their house. It helps to illuminate the area during summer activities, they say.
But they have made it a point to keep them off in the weeks leading to Dec. 25.
"We don't want the neighbors to think we may be celebrating Christmas," John Ostermann said.
Matt Morris, 18, a Jehovah's Witness from St. Louis who works in his father's construction business, said he has faced occasional ridicule by his peers for not celebrating Christmas.
But, he says, "I'm not shaken by it.
"What we do is proof of our love of God and that is what helps us get through it," he said.
Reporter Bill Smith: \E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org \Phone: 314-340-8125