LANCASTER, PA, December 21, 2011 ― The simplicity of an Amish Christmas epitomize the warmth, peace, altruism, and beauty we associate with the true meaning of the religious holiday.
Without the flashing, colored lights and brightly colored packages, the emphasis of the Amish Christmas shifts to the purity of the holiday, as pristine as the whiteness of the snow coating the Amish farmland; to the love shining in the eyes of friends and family as they gather together; to the simple joys of horse-drawn sleighs on snowy roads and the laughter of children as they frolic in the snow and skate on ice-covered ponds.
The peace and joy the outside world works so hard to find are emanated by the Amish community this time of year. Candles flickering in windows, carolers joining together in songs of the season, and the scent of homemade baked goods filling the air are some of the simple, joyful, ways that the Amish celebrate the birth of Christ.
The lack of commercialism is one of the most distinct differences between the Amish and other Christians who observe Christmas. The Amish do not do much Christmas shopping. Instead, most of their gifts to friends and family are handmade. Amish children are not exposed to television; therefore, they don’t beg for the latest, greatest video game system or the newest, most expensive piece of consumer technology. Instead, they give and receive special, albeit mostly practical, household items, clothing accessories, and toys. Simple, faceless dolls dressed in traditional Amish garb are often received by little girls on Christmas Day. Amish boys might receive handmade trains or cars. Both boys and girls enjoy presents of board games that can be played by the fireplace on long winter evenings.
Because the Amish do not promote belief in Santa Claus, the children, like their parents, focus on the real meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ. Nativity scenes are frequently displayed both inside and outside Amish homes. Children sometimes help construct Nativity figures as part of learning about the Biblical meaning of the holiday.
On Christmas Eve, most Amish communities gather for a Christmas program performed in a one-room schoolhouse, where students from grades one through eight are educated. The students recite poems, perform skits, or read stories for their parents and other family members. Afterward, they enjoy refreshments, such as cookies, candies, and other sweets made by those in attendance. If the ground is snow-covered, the students and their families ride home in horse-drawn sleighs, where they can truly appreciate the stillness and peace of a silent night, with stars blinking against a velvet sky.
The Amish spend Christmas Day with immediate families quietly observing the religious holiday. The families eat a large meal, usually consisting of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, noodles, vegetable dishes, salads, and myriad desserts. The remainder of the day is spent reading scriptures, meditating on the true meaning of Christmas, and exchanging simple presents with family members. The homes are not lavishly decorated, but do often have swags of greenery and handmade stars or angels to add a touch of festivity. Sometimes Christmas cards, mostly received from “English friends” (those who do not belong to the Amish community) are strung across the kitchen or living room. The Amish homes do not have Christmas trees.
The Amish reserve the day after Christmas, or “the Second Christmas,” for visiting friends and extended family. This day is when the Amish talk, laugh, and play games, either indoors or outdoors. Amish children often go sled riding, ice skating, or play other games in the snow as part of the fun of “Second Christmas.” Some friends and extended family members exchange simple gifts on this day as well. The Amish’s “Second Christmas” is focused on the joyful, celebratory aspects of the holiday.
Known for their plain attire, the Amish often express their appreciation for color and design in creating intricate quilts. These elaborate, colorful quilts are often exchanged as Christmas gifts between friends and family. Other handmade gifts include wood crafts, stationary with personalized stenciling, crocheted or knitted items. Books are sometimes given as gifts as well. In spite of their limited formal education, many of the Amish enjoy reading books and Amish newspapers.
In many ways, the Amish lifestyle is reminiscent of the way that most Americans lived during the late 1800s. Because many modern conveniences are shunned by the Amish, homes are lit by kerosene lanterns or gas-operated lamps, and heated by gas or coal furnaces or wood stoves. Furnishings are usually relatively simple, although some homes contain well-crafted, Amish-made furniture. Floors are usually covered with tile or linoleum; a touch of color and comfort are added by handmade rugs. Clocks and calendars are usually the only items adorning the walls.
On a visit to Lancaster County, Pa., earlier this fall, I visited a New Order Amish home. I was impressed with the home’s coziness and subtle pretty touches. The kitchen, with its handmade cabinets, was especially attractive. The appliances appeared new and modern, but were gas-operated, rather than electric.
Most impressive were the Amish people themselves, who exuded warmth and hospitality. They welcomed us into their home, shared a meal, and included us in conversation. The family we visited did not convey a judgmental attitude toward outsiders, which made us feel welcome and comfortable in their home. It was an experience that my mother, grandmother, and I will long hold in our hearts.
Most of the information in this column about the Amish Christmas season was obtained during that visit, as well as through various books written by authors of popular Amish fiction, such as Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter. These writers have thoroughly researched the Amish, as well as spent time in their homes, making their books a wonderful, authentic glimpse into the Amish traditions and faith.
Please visit the front page of Communities @WashingtonTimes.com for many more wonderful Christmas videos, stories, favorite songs and movies, memories and tellings of the tale of Christmas
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.