Amish Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a time for Christ

By Catie Noyes • Editor Published:

You won't hear the smooth voice of Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" coming from an Amish kitchen as cookies are being baked for the holidays. Nor will you find the Amish home adorned with the most elaborate display of Christmas lights complete with a decorated tree beaming from the living room window.

All these customs that we (non-Amish) get excited for during the holiday season are considered too extravagant and unnecessary when celebrating Christmas in an Amish household. That's not to say the Amish do not decorate their homes for the holidays.

Candles are lit and placed in the windows of Amish homes to represent the birth of Christ, while some Amish families may decorate their homes with Christmas cards from friends and family. Some of the more liberal Amish communities may even decorate with wreaths, stars, angels and garland, but you are least likely to find a Christmas tree or strands of lights in an Amish home.

"The more decorations involved, the less Christ is involved," said Lester Beachy, a new order Amish man and author of "Our Amish Values." Christmas is a very special time in the Amish community. A time to reflect on the true reason for the season.

On Christmas morning the family gathers around the head of the household to listen as he reads the story of the first Christmas from the family Bible.

"It has become a tradition in our home, since the Bible has been translated into Pennsylvania-Dutch instead of just German (or English), that we like to read the Christmas story in our Pennsylvania-Dutch dialect," said Beachy.

Just like any other day, the cows must get milked and the horses must be fed. The family heads out to take care of the chores and then they reconvene for breakfast.

Finally, the children are free to open presents as they are presented to them from their parents. There are no Amish communities that practice the tradition of Santa Claus.

Amish boys and girls will not find the latest gaming devices or other top electronic devices that many non-Amish children will receive this Christmas. Instead, younger children will receive wooden toys, model toy tractors or books and handmade dolls.

Contrary to popular belief, a large majority of Amish children play with dolls with faces. This tradition of faceless dolls may still be prominent in more conservative, old order Amish communities.

Boys and girls may also receive sporting equipment such as softball gloves and bats, and croquet and volleyball sets. Family oriented games like board and card games are highly encouraged in Amish families and make great gifts. Beachy and his family enjoy engaging games of Dutch Blitz and Uno; two popular card games among the Amish community.

"In our community, we object to gaming devices. We want families to be together more," said Beachy. "We Discourage gaming devices as it disrupts family time." (This can vary from church district to church district. It would not be uncommon to see an Amish child playing with a battery operated gaming device, it would simply depend on the church they are a part of.)

Older Amish men and women would most likely receive gifts that are practical in nature and can be used in their homes or on the farm. Women may receive household items such as quilts and china while the men may receive tools for their farm or shop.

The traditional Christmas dinner is usually the highlight of the Christmas celebration. The Christmas meal is usually quite elaborate including roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, salads, fruits, breads, cakes, cookies, pies and candies.

Each family tends to have their own Christmas meal and gathering and with Amish families being so large, these gatherings can last well into February.

"It's not easy to get the entire family home for the holidays. Especially with many living in other states," said Beachy.

Other Christmas Traditions:

Amish communities may have many different customs and traditions depending on the community they live in. Each community is different, but their message is always the same. Christmas is a time for Christ.

A Christmas program is usually planned at the schoolhouse each year. Amish children will put up decorations, sing songs, tell stories, read poems and put on plays in order to celebrate the meaning of Christmas.

Homemade treats and gifts such as quilts, toys or other small wooden crafts may be exchanged between the teacher and children. Amish children will continue to go to school throughout the Christmas season without the winter break that many non-Amish children enjoy because their school year is over earlier in preparation for the spring harvest.

The Amish have many non-Amish friends and even family members. Non-Amish visitors may be invited to share in Amish Christmas celebrations which may mean being invited to the school play or attending the family meal. Many Amish and non-Amish people work together and may exchange Christmas cards amongst each other.

Caroling is not just a tradition for the young people in Amish communities. Amish carolers travel to local nursing homes and shut-ins and bring with them gift baskets of homemade goodies like bread and candies to hand out. They visit both Amish and non-Amish care centers.

In Beachy's community, each Christmas the community prepares a list of names of the elderly people in the community and each family is assigned a name. The family prepares something special for that person by making them Christmas cards, gift baskets or other homemade goodies.

Some of the young people in Beachy's community have even created prison ministries. Amish youth travel to different prisons throughout Ohio bringing cards and cookies. They may also share stories and some of their Christmas programs with the inmates.

Overall, the main focus of the Christmas season in the Amish home is to honor and celebrate Christ. While much time is devoted to prayer and scripture, spending time with the family in relaxation and laughter is just as important to the Amish community.

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