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Party Like it’s 1959

party 1959

You would think that since Jehovah’s Witnesses pass up all the holidays, as well as birthdays, that their lives must be completely devoid of fun.  Heavens, no!  JWs have frequent “get-togethers.”  At least that’s what we called them in the U.S.  Never used the word “party.”  You can have all the fun you want, as long as you follow some basic rules.

Size of gathering:  Must be manageable and well supervised.

Back in the 1970s (in the U.S. at least) an alarming trend developed that had lovers of righteousness rending their garments.  Large roller skating parties were being held at roller rinks.  A blanket invitation would be issued, perhaps posted on the congregation information board, to several area congregations, and donations would be collected to cover the cost of renting the facility.  No booze would be served, and there were plenty of adults to chaperone.  Everyone had good, wholesome fun skating around the rink.  Of course, as with any crowd, there has to be at least one person who sees the gathering as an opportunity to be naughty, an “incident” occurs, and there are consequences.  I think the “incident” that caused the furor was that some “worldly” kids wandered into the party and all the clean and shiny JW kids were contaminated by their worldliness.  Maybe they played some disco music (the horror!).

A great deal of tut-tutting occurred and resulted in an edict being issued from the Governing Body to the elders putting the kibosh on all large gatherings.  Even though my brother and I had not attended any of these parties, my father, being a sucker for strict rules, sat us down and with a stern face announced that in future we would not be allowed to attend a function if more than 10 people would be there.

I was thinking, “Shoot, we sometimes have more people than that over for dinner.”  As it was, we weren’t allowed any freedom of movement anyway, so I don’t know what he was worried about.

Amusements:  If any games or sports are played, nobody can get competitive about it; competition is unchristian.  If there is music, only wholesome music may be selected (in other words – nothing anyone really wants to hear).   If there is dancing, no suggestive movements will be tolerated (which pretty much narrows it down to square dancing and line dancing).

Refreshments:  If alcoholic beverages are served…you know what – just don’t do it.  Nothing good ever came from having an open bar.  JWs love Kool-Aid anyway.  ;o)

Food:  Since nobody can afford a catered affair it’ll be potluck.  Staples of a potluck dinner include several molded gelatin salads (one of which must contain mini marshmallows), at least one big pot of chili, baked beans, potato salad, three varieties of macaroni salad, four or five spaghetti casseroles, chocolate brownies, blond brownies, apple brownies, and M&M brownies.

The inevitable sing-along:  Has to be Kingdom Melodies, so that everyone can sing, “We Are Jehovah’s Witnesses” at the tops of their voices.

Timing:  Since pleasure should never overshadow theocratic activities, it pretty much has to be Saturday afternoon, so that everyone will have the opportunity to participate in the field service in the morning.  Sunday afternoon is out because it’s field service time.  Now, be sure the whole event wraps up early enough so that everyone will be fresh for the Sunday meeting.

The reason for the get-together:  I think I went to exactly two get-togethers that were thrown for no reason at all, and those were softball games.  Most of the time you’d have to wait for someone to get married, have a baby, or move away before anyone suggested a gathering, and then it was usually the same person or people who threw every get-together.

The guest list must be controlled and invitations issued (either orally or by card).  No general announcements will be made inviting everyone.  In fact, there was even a Watchtower article about get-togethers that stated that nobody should feel hurt if they are not invited to a get-together.  Yeah, right.

Watermelon must be served.  This is really just a joke.  Some of my less-than-pious friends pointed out that, in The Watchtower, every illustration of a get-together showed watermelon being served, so it became a joke among us.

That brings up another point.  While I was a  JW, and especially in the 80s and 90s, we got quite a bit of counsel on the subject of get-togethers (including wedding receptions)and these were accompanied by a photo or drawing of a group of JWs having fun together, and these pictures were always meticulous in their realism.

Usually it would be set in someone’s living room.  Everyone would be dressed like they had just taken off their ties after a meeting – females in skirts, men in nice slacks and sport shirts.  Never would you see a pair of jeans or a t-shirt on anyone.  No sneakers either.  Someone would have a guitar.  On the coffee table would be a bowl of popcorn, a pitcher of some brightly colored liquid (the literal Kool-Aid) and the inevitable sliced watermelon.  There would be people of all ages represented, and everyone would be singing.  Yup I’m yawning too.

It never went down that way.  Seriously, does that sound like fun?  Usually, someone would rent a school auditorium or Grange hall or something like that, tables would be set up for the food, someone would bring a couple of basketballs to amuse the kids, and generally everyone would just stand around in little knots, chatting (read: gossiping).  If there was a sound system, they’d pop in a recording of Kingdom Melodies (I guess there’s a new song book now, but that’s what it was in my time as a JW) which would bring the mood way down.  At some point, one of the elders would call everyone to attention, say a prayer, and we’d queue up for the food.  Once the eating was done, maybe someone would suggest a game of some sort.  I remember dividing up into teams and having a potato race where you have to hold a potato between your knees while you move as fast as you can over a prescribed distance and back.  Hilarity ensued.

Other get-togethers involved softball games in someone’s pasture, tables of food set up outside, same procedure.  I really enjoyed those games because I could whack the snot out of that softball and release a lot of frustration.  People were always amazed at what a slugger I was since I have never given the appearance of being athletic.

Oh, and everyone, except Brother Elderly, would be wearing jeans and t-shirts.  And sneakers.

I attended a number of Super Bowl parties as well, but I understand that the Governing Body has started condemning them as being “a trap.”  Too much merriment and – gasp! – the possible overconsumption of alcoholic beverages.  The parties I went to were not drunken romps.  Usually, whoever threw the party had a large TV, it would be potluck, and everyone behaved themselves.

I think that if you want to be bad, you’re going to find a way to be bad no matter how many rules are imposed.  So, party on, JW Super Bowl fans!


11 responses »

  1. HAPPY New year Sally! See you soon! We fly in to Greensboro on the 10th!

  2. Just wanted to be the first to leave a comment in 2013! The JW would have been proud of my New Year’s celebration this year – but I’ll make up for it next year.

    Keep the blogs coming. I love your writing and I’m learning about my old next door neighbors.

  3. William Roberts

    Happy New Year, Sally. (Issued without guilt) Glad we all survived it with a sense of humor! Think how lucky you are,,,without the crazy experience you wouldn’t be writing this enjoyable blog.
    From a fellow Mainiac, Bill

  4. Happy New Year, Sally! Hoping THIS is the year for you, and your book. It’s coming along wonderfully. Now, after reading today’s blog, I think we should royally p-ss-off the Elders, and plan the next palooza!

  5. Wowwwww!!! Thats Crazy. Scottlblog. I Love your blog. But let me ask you? What part of the country you grew up in? because where I’m from, (lets just say the east coast) We as JW teens growing up in the seventies Had a ballllllll!!!! OUr Parties were Parties,you here me? (This was in part because it was so many of us young ones in our community, thousands.) In my crew it was about 7 of us. Liqour, Loud dance music. There was A party every week, almost all of them had no real supervision. In All my years I can honestly say, nothing really bad happened. Even me and my freinds overdrank couple of times. Even though it was a lot of us,we were tightKnit. Covered for oneanother. Loved each other. Man, you just brought back so many fond memorys. Just one memo. We were coming back from a jw party so late Im talking 7:00 in the morning, we ran into some friends in field service.(Called street work back then) We saw them first, We had to somehow duck them. Its only later in life that I figured this religion is not it.

    Happy New year and still love to party.

  6. Oh PS- Most Young jw in my day literaly ignored that GB policy of no large gatherings. Once in a while we would run into one of those get-togethers you had, but when my crew arrived, the gathering turned into a party!! When we got to the Kingdom hall meetings we were little angels.
    Another memo. Back in 74 or 75 we heard of a “gathering” right on some property the society
    owned. Yes I said it- at bethel. A hotel they owned called the Bosert. We heard the music when we walked in the lobby. Knocked on the door. guessed who opened the door. A bethelite. Had a whistle in is mouth. Music was Blaring, it was dark, lights going crazy. I dont think he let us in though, invitation only, but I’ll never forget that face, he was wild. That was funny

    peace out

    • I lived in Central Maine in the ’70s – very conservative area. My father never let us go anywhere unsupervised, so I didn’t have any of the fun you had. That is hilarious about the party at the Bossert. Bunch of hypocrites!

  7. Nope – it was all strictly no fun where I grew up as a JW (Australia). No get-togethers, little socialising, no parties – nothing! Nothing for the young ones (or anybody else that I remember).

    In fact, there was once a small party given for the teens, where we played pass-the parcel and one or two other games. We all packed up early because it was all so cringeingly awkward and lame. Never happened again.

    Here’s a New Year’s Resolution that’s working for me: I resolve to leave the year 2012 behind permanently…

  8. I can only speak for Scandinavia in the 1990s where JW youth parties/get-togethers were pretty much like “worldly” parties in terms of music, food, and even some alcohol as much as permitted by law. But of course with chaperones and a strict ban on anything that could be – gasp – even remotely sexual (not that some kids didn’t do some “bad things” anyway somewhere…ahem). Since Scandinavia has a tradition of being liberal on all things sex-related, “good” JWs tend to be even more neurotic about it there than usual. And that’s quite an achievement!

    These parties were pretty much limited in size since you only have so many JW kids in a given area unless there’s a DC or something like that.

  9. Spent my young years in Missouri and Kentucky. The first ‘get-together’ I remember going to as a 12 year old JW was in Missouri. I remember dancing with a red-headed boy to “Hey Jude”. This would be formal couples dance: Girl’s left hand on the boy’s right hand shoulder. Boy’s left hand holding girl’s right hand. At least one body space between us. LOL — and the parents were right there to make sure the space remained. Very small.

    In KY, I remember going to both boring ‘get-togethers’ and wild ‘get-togethers’ – which would be talked about on Sunday morning, and which always ended up with at least one person being pulled into the back room by the elders for questioning about their behavior.

    Most teenagers had a don’t tell on anyone else mentality — what happens with a group of kids, stays within that group of kids. One time, however, I remember my sister and I and some other kids ran into another group of kids from a different KH. They had been drinking and later got in trouble — and then tried to lesson their punishment by saying that we had been drinking too! Traitors! We had not, and it took us a long time to convince our parents and the elders that we had not. My sister and I finally told our mom “look we have always fessed up when we have gotten caught doing something wrong, so why would we change that now?”, and she believed us, so that was that.

    When I was in my early thirties, there was a family that moved into the area, and they used to have great parties. They had a select guest list (read: the cool people in the KH). They had a swimming pool. There was awesome (and loud) music playing. There was a lot of food (potluck, but good potluck), and the alcohol was flowing.

    Until one night, after their oldest son had turned 21, and he was allowed to play bartender in the basement. It was mostly to people in their twenties — many young couples. The son served a shot to a young married woman. Then he told her it was called a b**w job. Scandal ensued!!!

    Then they were forced to be EXTREMELY careful about who was invited, and who was allowed to have alcohol. Ha! It always killed me when there were people who could get away with anything and they were still exemplified in the congregation.


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