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Driving through the Heartland of Ohio during the Christmas season, there will not be Amish homes lit brightly with twinkling lights or pine trees lighting the windows. "These decorations tend to distract from the true meaning of Christmas" explains Lester Beachy, a new order Amish man and author of "Our Amish Values". The main focus is kept on the presence of Christ and the coming celebration of his birth.
Christmas in the Home
Amish communities believe Christmas Day to be as sacred as a Sunday and a time dedicated to family. They do not work beyond the necessary chores; instead they spend the day surrounded by their family. While much of the day is spent in reverence for the birth of Christ, the simple joys of family life such as visiting and playing games allow families to enjoy the time spent together.
One of the most celebrated traditions is reading the Christmas story from the Bible. Since the Bible's translation into Pennsylvania Dutch, Beachy and his family have enjoyed reading the story in their spoken dialect. Depending on the family, the reading takes place at different times throughout Christmas Day, but the importance of the reading is the same; allowing the family to reflect on the meaning of the day.
The family will also share a meal among immediate family members. Gathering a large family is difficult, especially when the older members are married, have families of their own and/or don't live in the surrounding area. For this reason, Beachy explained, Christmas celebrations can spill over into February. No matter the timing of the family meal, the event is often large and marked with special foods. The parents will provide the main dish and all the hot foods while the married children will bring in cold food offerings.
Although they do not believe in Santa Claus, presents are given to Amish children by their parents. The presents vary widely, but the unmarried children will often receive wooden toys, bicycles or tools. Beachy fondly remembers receiving a little flashlight from his grandmother when he was a boy.
Extending further than a single day, the Christmas season is celebrated throughout the month of December. Spreading the Christmas spirit is common among the Amish as they extend their voices and hands to those who are willing.
Spreading the Christmas Spirit
In the Heartland of Ohio, there lay four New Order Amish church districts who spread the good will of Christmas to all those with ears to listen. The true meaning of the season is not missed by these God honoring souls, as they travel the state over delivering the message of Christmas. They do not partake in the decoration of pine trees and they do not gift the latest gaming systems, but their message is free and carries a loving note.
A group of the young members gather together, singing the songs long associated with Christmas. They carry their tune to state prisons in the Cincinnati and Chillicothe area, never faulting their message of God's love. 'Silent Night' falls upon the ears of the inmates as the young Amish sing in a cappella harmony. Often times the group will converse with the inmates over cookies and cards as they share their love of Christ.
Traveling with the young people, four ordained men will preach sermons from the Bible. All the while the meaning behind the Christmas season is present and reflected upon. For their part, the inmates listen intently absorbing the love shown to them by their visitors. It would not be their first, nor their last encounter, as this group of Amish men and women often visit the inmates. They come to share their faith and their trust in God through Bible courses. Through the connection of the Bible this unexpected pair, the inmates and Amish, are able to find common ground and celebrate a holiday dear to all our hearts.
The young people of this Sugarcreek church district are not the only ones who spread the joy of Christmas through music. A tradition established in the last fifty years, groups of Amish men and women visit surrounding nursing homes, shut ins and neighbors caroling the good news of the holiday season. They visit Amish as well as non-Amish, carrying with them baskets of goodies, bread and similar tokens of cheer.
The Amish community focus their celebration of Christmas on prayer, scripture and the birth of Christ, but they do not forget the dedication of family and the spirit of the season. Reveling in each others company, the family will laugh and play games, simply enjoying the time together.