By Ian White
Father denied Christmas as a child enjoys his own family’s festivities
Jason Thickpenny was banned from celebrating Christmas as a child but, since being freed from the religious cult he grew up in, he now looks forward to enjoying the festive season with his wife and son.
Jason admits he and wife Ally will 'spoil' their young boy Luke on 25 December after being denied Christmas throughout his own childhood.
"For the first 24 years of my life I never had Christmas," Jason shares sadly.
Yet now with a family of his own things are very different.
"I am very much looking forward to spending Christmas with my wife and child and seeing the look on his face on Christmas morning.
"Growing up in a family that were all [part of a cult] was difficult in itself. No birthdays, no New Years, excluded from school assemblies due to Christian hymns, and of course, no Christmas.
"I kind of understood why we didn't celebrate it ... but I had no choice.
"The fact that I would not get any presents or be able to get any excitement from Christmas never really bothered me; being excluded from so many things at school though, that did."
Jason was banned from the nativity play, primary school classes making Christmas decorations, and even Christmas carols with the other kids.
"School is hard enough at the best of times, so being excluded from all these activities made life even worse. But this time of year was, if anything, more difficult during my early working years.
"Whereas most kids would just accept the fact I didn't celebrate, workmates would press questions more, often ones I couldn't answer, such as: 'Is there anywhere in the Bible that says you shouldn't celebrate it?'"
Now that Jason is out of the cult he says he recognises that celebrating Christmas is a personal decision.
However, Jason's first Christmas outside the cult was one of the hardest times of his life – for family reasons. He says he was aware that his parents were with the rest of his family, and he was excluded.
After marrying another cult member he got a well-paid job to support his wife, but was instructed to give it up, so, being obedient, he took up window cleaning.
But the couple realised they were incompatible and, despite Jason's best efforts to see it out, his wife left him. Legal separation pushed Jason further into depression. He started to skip cult meetings. Then, after a physical relationship with a female friend, he was excommunicated from the cult and immediately shunned.
After divorce, Jason attempted to be reinstated but to no avail.
He cried out to God for help and says: "I started to read the Bible and was struck by a verse in Galatians [2:21] which says if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died for nothing." In other words, we can't get to heaven by our own efforts to be good, but Jesus made it possible for us to be accepted into heaven.
Jason then received an unexpected text from an old friend – a former cult member he used to shun! It was an invitation to church.
"I was attending [cult meetings] in the week and church on a Sunday and comparing the two. I couldn't get the Galatians verse out of my head, and realised I had denied God's grace [his free gift of eternal life] by trying to live by the law [obedience to cult regulations] in order to earn a place in heaven."
Jason informed his parents he would no longer be seeking re-instatement. His dad's last words to him were that he would "die at Armageddon".
Freed from dead religion, Jason began to put his faith in Jesus instead of an organisation knowing that there is nothing he can do to "work" his way to heaven – Jesus has done it all already.
Now he and new wife Ally can look forward to celebrating Luke's birthdays, his own and Jesus' birthday this Christmas!•