A couple years back, pro tennis player and legend Serena Williams received backlash after fans learned she wouldn't be celebrating her daughter with husband Alexis Ohanian. Neither she nor Alex say "happy birthday" to their daughter — or do they celebrate their own birthdays. This has all to do with Serena's religion.
What religion is Serena Williams?
Serena Williams is a Jehovah's Witness. She'd been honoring the religion since the '80s, when her mother converted. However, she didn't seem to fully practice the religion until 2017. Serena shared, "Being a Jehovah’s Witness is important to me, but I’ve never really practiced it and have been wanting to get into it." However, she's always believed in Jehovah and was grateful for her faith, as she believed it helped propel her career.
"Being a Jehovah's Witness, obviously we believe in God and the Bible. And without Him, I wouldn't be here right now. I really thank Him for everything," Serena told ASAP Sports in 2002.
And while Alexis isn't a Jehovah's Witness himself, he still respects his wife's faith and supports her. "Alexis didn’t grow up going to any church, but he’s really receptive and even takes the lead. He puts my needs first," Serena told Vogue in 2017.
Still, many who aren't aware of the religion have criticized her for certain parenting practices (like not celebrating birthdays, which you don't do when you're a Jehovah's Witness). The explanation for this can be read on the Jehovah's Witnesses official site: “Although the Bible does not explicitly forbid celebrating birthdays, it does help us to reason on key features of these events and understand God’s view of them."
And back in 2018, when fans were upset Serena and Alex weren't wishing their daughter a happy birthday, Alex came to Serena defense, saying, "I'm not a Witness, but I considered how made up it all is: the purpose of celebrating a birthday is to celebrate life with the people who love you (and to eat cake). This baby is loved and will get to celebrate life with people who love her *plenty* of times, with plenty of parties (and eat cake — in moderation) throughout her life."
Serena and her family also don't celebrate major holidays, both religious and U.S-based, like Christmas and Halloween, which is also part of the religion. According to jw.org, Jehovah's Witness practicers should not celebrate holidays that are "based on an unscriptural teaching," "rooted in the belief in or worship of other gods," "based on superstition or on the belief in luck," "based on the idea that the soul is immortal," and "linked to the occult."
This is why you don't see any holiday-themed photos on Serena's Instagram account. (Sorry, no cute Halloween baby pictures for us!) People who practice the religion may choose not to attend the weddings of those who don't share the same beliefs, but as we know, Serena did attend Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding.
But Serena did get in trouble with the elder witnesses (kind of like ministers) when she yelled at the U.S. Open line judge once. “They had to have a talk with me. And I knew it was coming. I just felt really bad, though, because it’s like, that’s not who I am," she said.
She added, "They just talk to you. They show you Scriptures. Not ministers, they call them elders. It’s almost like a reprimand, but it’s not bad, because in the Bible it says God loves you, and if someone reprimands you, they love you.”
We have a feeling Serena and her family still find plenty of reasons for celebration in life, no matter what religion they practice.