The Irony of the Holidays

DepressionWith the holiday season approaching, we know that the focus for most celebrants will be about getting together with family to share this special time of year while they reminisce the past year and create new memories. However, for many former Jehovah’s Witnesses this will not be the case due to the Watchtower’s shunning policy.

And, while most of us never celebrated holidays in our JW lives, the pull towards enjoying family holidays seems like an elusive dream, even though we’re now free to celebrate.  We know that some people (JW or not) find this time of year brings on depression and a sense of loss—more so than at other times of the year.

Mayo Clinic offers several suggestions on how to cope with holiday stress and depression, including acknowledging any sense of loss you may feel.  If “…you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”

I found one of the most practical of tips to be to “take a breather.”  We all need some quiet time.  The folks at Mayo tell us to make some time for ourselves. “Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.”

Over the years some in the ex-JW community have found great joy in exchanging cards or small gifts (even across the ocean), as well as Skyping, and calling one another to share good wishes and banter.  This extended family of the heart can make holidays a more enjoyable time, as I’ve personally experienced with many friends I’ve made through online ex-JW groups.

I’ve heard from many former Witnesses that reaching out to others during the holidays is a great way to help minimize depression.  Many volunteer to work in a soup kitchen, ring bells for charity, host others who may be without families for the holidays, create cards for shut-ins or those who may be in the hospital, or visit the elderly in a nursing home.  Research proves that doing things for others helps with depression. “There’s a lot of good research that shows these kinds of actions can have a positive impact on life. In general, people who help others stop focusing on their own pains and problems and worries and feel good about themselves.”–Dr. Michelle Riba, former president of the American Psychiatric Association, as quoted in U.S. News – Health

However, remember if things get too overwhelming during the holidays or any time of year, help is only a phone call away.  Crisis centers are available in most locations, and they are ready to help any time—night or day.

International Suicide Crisis Hotlines

USA: 1-800-784-2433–Web:

Canada: 1-800-448-1833

UK: 08457 90 90 90

France: 01 45 39 40 00–Web:

Australia: 1300 13 11 14– Web:

New Zealand: (9) 5222-999 within Auckland, 0800 111-777 outside Auckland–Web:

Germany: 0800 – 111 0 111 (ev.) (protestant), 0800 – 111 0 222 (rk.), (roman catholic), 0800 – 111 0 333

(Kinder / Jugendliche) (for kids/teens)–Web:

Netherlands: 0900-1450 (workdays, 0900-1800 local (CET))–Web:

Belgium: 02 649 95 55 (24/7)–Web:

Posted on by November 24, 2013

About Steph Le Gardener

I'm a former 4th generation JW who's been out since 1992, re-creating my world and family of the heart. I keep busy with my work for a not-for-profit organization which specializes in education for senior leadership in healthcare, as well as my many hobbies, including: gardening, crafting, nature photography, reading, and writing. For nearly eight years, I've been an active voice in the ex-JW community, supporting those who have found their way out of cult life, and now I add my voice with others as an active volunteer for Advocates of Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA). I can be reached at


The Irony of the Holidays — 7 Comments

  1. Thanks Steph! I already shared the U.S. suicide hotline number with a young man I know who feels suicidal a lot. It’s nice to feel freer, but I am an odd duck who never was crazy about Christmas before I was a JW anyway, I was relieved to give it up and have a religious excuse (anyone else out there?)!! I was kind of resentful of the pressure to buy a gift for everyone I cared about or owed presents all at the same time! Besides the increase in depression and issues you mention here. Oh, another thing I hate is the long bleak stretch of winter AFTER January 1st-what’s up with that? Why don’t we have another party-type event before Spring, just to pass the time in more of a fun way? Excuse my venting please! : )

  2. Good article Steph. I guess I was one who celebrated vicariously through my neighbors and classmates when I was a kid, and was always thankful just for the days off. Oddly enough there were also those in the congregations who were known for catching a turkey sale during Thanksgiving or Christmas and would invite some of the friends over after a meeting. My big sis was good at this, as well as some elders.

    Amazingly enough I always secretly connected emotionally more towards Christmas music than the perpetually flat plain-jane sounding kingdom songs. The Watchtower Muzac couldn’t beat Christmas or gospel to tell you the real “Truth,” their refusal to change is for reasons too dumb to elaborate here. It seems the harder people worshiped to Society (which is what we were doing whether we admit it or not), the more personal damage was done to many who were DF’d.

    Much of this is due to how many people who join these cults placed such low value and agenda on themselves even before that fateful knock on the door. The love-bombing mesmerizes them, and the shunning destroys many of them. It’s not selfish or haughty to find yourself and do what you know you’re capable of or want to do. All the Watchtower wanted was just one thing, but it’s a big one; your time.

  3. 2013 has been quite a good year since AAWA came online and I’ve gained an extended family which displays an unconditional love, unlike my 6 siblings and two children who all base their “love” for me on the condition that I return to the WatchTower Society. Sick.

    At least my son, who, two years ago told me that he didn’t want anything to do with me, was disfellowshipped from the WTS this year and used the off time to research the WTS. He didn’t like what he found. We’re now real tight again because he refuses to go back. I try not to allow family ties to dictate my level of joy, but I can say I’m a lot more joyful since my son and I are real family now.

  4. It’s weird how Xmas is such a sad time for many of us who never celebrated it…I grew up a jw so never celebrated it and now it’s just another day. However we do try and do something special even if it’s just my husband and I heading to the beach with prawns and wine…thank goodness we live in the southern hemisphere where many people do the same! For quite some years after we left the jws a friend of ours held open house at her place for xmas breakfast and a few of us took advantage of that. It was good to be around other people who were orphans too for one reason or another. I think we often forget we aren’t the only ones without family around at xmas. But that sense of loss can often weigh heavily around this time for sure.

  5. I remember a conversation that I had with a JW relative about holidays. When I commented that the holidays were still “no big deal” to me, but that my kids and wives especially loved Christmas and Thanksgiving – so I’ve come to enjoy having the family together showing each other so much love.

    My relative commented that there were all the pagan bits and that it was the Feast of Saturnalia that we were worshipping. I explained that our Christmases have never been “religious” – but we don’t avoid the usual relationships of Jesus, angels, etc. as we see them as just being part of the cultural aspects. But we don’t worship Saturn or Zeus or any other made up god either.

    His last comment was, “That is how I know Jehovah’s Witnesses are the TRUE religion – because we don’t celebrate Christmas, Easter or Halloween.” That was it for him. Holidays. It wasn’t about whether their teachings were honestly based on the Bible or that most of their policies were unsupportable – for him it was just the fact JWs didn’t get together on a holiday and enjoy their families because the day was labeled on the calendar, “Christmas.”

  6. Hi Steph great article this is my first Christmas for 27 years I Left JW;sin March this year and am looking forwards to being with my family.I have no relatives left in the org now so it will be great for us all. I am mindful though of ones who are being shunned and left alone and to such ones I would like to send much love and respect …

  7. What a lot of drivel. Christmas etc., just the same old boring routine and social conformities with a face-full of adverts and mind-numbing tunes. JW or not, live your life free of the tedious man-made festivals and don’t be a slave to the masses. Take a real holiday and ditch the “holidays”. “Happy, new year, merry xmas” blah blah.

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