These are simply my personal observations after spending a lot of time with the Amish over the years. I’m not an academic who studies the Amish. I’m not Amish. I’m only a non-Amish person who has spent a lot of time with the Amish and I’m sharing my observations. My observations are not Gospel.
With all of those caveats, the question of whether Amish people celebrate Thanksgiving or not seems, in my experience, to track pretty heavily with how conservative or progressive an Amish community is.
The more conservative Amish, I have found, tend to ignore the holiday. This will include the Amish of the Conewango Valley of New York, the Swiss Amish around Berne, Indiana, Switzerland County, Indiana Amish, and Swartzentruber Amish in general. Are you going to find exceptions? Absolutely. There’s no church rule that I am aware of anywhere that says you can’t celebrate it, or you can.
In very traditional Amish communities, I’m thinking Wheat Ridge, Ohio, and Holmes County, Ohio, you’ll find a hodgepodge: some families celebrating Thanksgiving, others not. And in the more progressive Amish communities, Shipshewana, Indiana, for instance, you’ll see Thanksgiving widely celebrated and observed among the Amish.
🦃 Why Don’t Some Amish Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Many Amish in these most conservative communities are cut off from the mainstream secular traditions, so they aren’t exposed to Thanksgiving as much. So they will – in general - view the Thanksgiving holiday as a lot of pomp and circumstance for little payoff; the thinking is that one should give thanks every day, so why try to cram all this thanks giving into one elaborate meal? It’s a lot of food, fancy food, that may not fit in well with the very frugal lifestyle of the most conservative Amish.
In fact, I’ve been to some Amish communities where businesses are open on Thanksgiving just like any other day. I’m not sure how many customers they get, but some Amish entrepreneurs will just ignore the holiday and keep their businesses open.
🍗 Why Do Some Amish Celebrate Thanksgiving?
On the other side of the equation, why is Thanksgiving widely observed among some Amish?
Again, this is only my observation but I think what happens is that the pop-culture pressure becomes very pronounced on the more mainstream and progressive Amish who are not as insulated as their more conservative cousins. The Amish are aware of everybody gathering on Thanksgiving. They’re aware of the turkeysfor sale, and they figure might as well join in the fun. So you have Amish families having large gatherings with turkey and all the trimmings.
🥧 How is an Amish Thanksgiving different from Non-Amish?
Among the more mainstream and progressive Amish, you’d probably notice very little difference between their Thanksgiving and yours. The main meal would be a turkey, trimmings, side dishes, cranberries, make their appearance and pie lots of pie. And family. Lots of family.
The Amish also do not have the history surrounding Thanksgiving that non-Amish have. Non-Amish kids are steeped in history and tradition about Thanksgiving and that first encounter with the Pilgrims. Amish children generally are not except for Amish children - and there is a sizable contingent - that go to public schools. Here, they will be exposed Thanksgiving traditions, construction paper Pilgrim hats, and Thanksgiving lunch. All of these help introduce the more progressive and mainstream Amish to Thanksgiving traditions.
Other "Plain" cultures embrace Thanksgiving in a bigger way. The German Baptists celebrate the day with a big family meal and the Hutterites raise a lot of turkeys for the holiday.
🍲 What Kind of Food Do the Amish Eat On Thanksgiving?
The types of foods found on an Amish table will be similar to what you'd find at any Thanksgiving gathering, although, turkey isn't quite as cemented into Amish tradition. I've heard of Amish families having ham, chicken, and even venison as their main meat for the meal. Other dishes you'll find include:
- Dressing or stuffing
- Mashed potatoes
- Cranberry sauce or fluff
- Green beans
- Pumpkin pie
- Apple pie
🙋 FAQ Amish and Thanksgiving
Yes, turkeys are found on many Amish farms and some do raise them commercially, so many Amish have access to fresh, farm-raised turkeys.
It varies. Turkey is not quite as ingrained in Amish Thanksgiving culture as it is in most of America. So you will find venision, ham, and even chicken on the menu for Amish Thanksgiving.