My First Birthday Celebration
by Kristen 4/5/01
Having been brought up in the organization since age 3, the only memory of a birthday celebration I had was an old photograph of when I was 2. In front of the camera was my sister and I, with a cake baked in a regular rectangle cake pan, frosted, and with two candles sitting on top. One candle had the figure nine, and the other had a figure 2. We were both born on the same day, seven years apart.
My parents began studying with the witnesses the following year, which also meant that holidays and birthdays would no longer be celebrated in our family. I was young enough to adapt to the situation on account of it "being against my religion," but never could pass over that particular day without wishing in my heart that I could celebrate the day I and my sister were born.
My sister never became a baptized witness, but I did. The belief system that I subscribed to up until my mid-20's convinced me that acknowledging the day I was born was not an acceptable thing to do and somehow wrong in the eyes of God. Only three "reasons" ever were given: 1) two stories of someone being executed during a birthday celebration, 2) a scripture with the thought that the day of one's death is greater than of being born, and 3) that it somehow promotes idolatry, or of too much importance of oneself.
Still though, that day has always been special to me. And I always longed to make it real and not pretend that it had no significance.
So, after 29 years of declining gifts and the well-wishes of schoolmates, workmates, and the like, and denying myself a celebration of life, I finally reached a point in my journey, that this year I would openly acknowledge my birthday. Yesterday was my birthday. Here's what happened:
Before going to classes, I picked up a couple of bags of candy. At school, I handed it out to all of my classmates and accepted for the first time the happy birthday wishes that came my way. At first, it felt odd, but as time went on through two classes (and even a teacher bringing in treats for me), I couldn't believe how demonized the JW's make birthdays out to be.
In the afternoon, I met my sister for lunch and we had our own celebration, our very first since 1974. We finally got to acknowledge our special day. I gave her a small gift, a book of daily thoughts, because she loves that kind of stuff. And she gave me a bouquet of flowers. I could feel deep inside myself a feeling of closure on something that was long coming.
Today when I arrived at work, my cubical was decked out with banners and glittery hanging thingies with more happy birthday messages. In front of my cubical was a spread of food, contributed from all in our department. More happy birthday wishes came my day, all day long from those who came by to nibble. I got to know many new people from the friendly chit-chat that seemed to naturally flow from that setting.
So for two days I have been celebrating this occasion. And I think of all the goodwill that has occurred between me and the people that I interact with on a daily basis. Yes, I feel really good, and more normal, accepting and acknowledging this "custom". For the first year I didn't have to explain to anyone that I don't celebrate, or have to keep it all locked inside, wishing it were different.
For the first time in my life I feel a freedom that I've never experienced before. Even if the birthdays of the rest of my life don't happen like this one, being able to openly acknowledge a fact of life with the people that surround me daily has been an experience I'll never forget. I didn't expect anything from anyone. I have no presents to show for it. But yet, it has brought great joy to me.
And this is supposed to be displeasing to God? I just can't see how.