It is the time of year for holiday lights and Santa and elves. But are these typical secular trappings of Christmas found in most Amish homes? How do the Amish celebrate Christmas? Are you going to find Eli smooching Emma under the mistletoe?
The Amish have a somewhat complicated relationship with Christmas, being pulled in one direction by spiritual piety and in the other by the inescapable commercial and festive qualities of the day.
An Amish Christmas Poem
"This Christmas season let us try
To do some golden deeds,
To carry someone’s burden,
To help someone in need.
There are always those who need us
As we journey on life’s way,
And the friends we win by helping
Make us richer every day.
So when you see a saddened face
As Christmas time draws near,
Do your best to lift the load
And spread a word of cheer."
The above poem, is originally from an out-of-print book called "Getting Ready for Christmas" by Emma Lapp.
Among the Amish there is usually a lot of emphasis on reaching out to those who have lost loved ones during the previous year, this is especially true among the New Order Amish.
Still, for the Amish - across all orders - the main purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th in Bethelem.
Let's unpack how the Amish celebrate Christmas and how they don't.
🎅 Santa and Reindeer: How Do The Amish Celebrate Christmas?
As a general rule (and the reasons for this are varied), the more conservative an Amish community the less Christmas is outwardly observed. And that, by the way, would hold true for all birthday's, not just Christ's. So here is a Christmas primer:
Church: The Amish typically attend church every other Sunday. If Christmas happens to fall on a "church Sunday", there will be church as usual. If it does not, then there will be no special service, people will just stay home with their families and enjoy a quiet day.
Food: Food is one way in which the Amish really celebrate Christmas. Amish kitchens become a place where favorite candies are made, chocolates are dipped, and cookies are cut out and made. Fruitcake is a favorite, not a doorstop.
Christmas Caroling: Especially among the New Order Amish, but also among some Old Order, Christmas caroling is a poignant and popular way to celebrate the season. Visiting shut-ins and widows and cheering them up with festive Christmas carolings is something that groups of Amish youth will do and it gives everyone great pleasure.
Christmas Program: Most Amish schools host an annual "Christmas program" where the students (many Amish refer to them more formally as "scholars") put on a Biblically based play with traditional music. The program is a big thrill for parents who gather at the school to watch their children in action. Often a potluck follows and then the school doors shut until after the New Year arrives.
Decorations: The Amish typically celebrate holidays in very no-frills fashion. In most Amish homes you won’t find Christmas trees, giant plastic snowmen, or boughs of holly strung across the mantle. The Amish mostly reject these more secular trappings of the holiday. Generally, the only holiday decorations I’ve seen in Amish homes are, perhaps, some Christmas cards with snow scenes or reindeer taped to the wall or sitting on the mantel.
Amish communities vary great from place to place depending on local traditions and the individual bishopIn most Amish homes, you will not find Christmas decorations. What you often will find are colorful Christmas cards sent by family and friends taped up on a door frame or placed on the mantel. Perhaps in some New Order Amish homes, you might find a sprig of pine. In some Amish settlements, you might see lit candles placed in the windows in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but that is the exception, not the rule. You may find a small knick-knack showing baby Jesus is in a crib.
Christmas Cards: Oh, yes. The Amish are generally prolific Christmas card senders (again, this will vary greatly with the most conservative Amish not really doing this, but most Amish do send a lot of cards). The end of the year is a great time to catch up family and friends as to goings ons. And the cards themselves become decorations.
Santa: This is a little tougher to pin down. Santa is a secular symbol of the holiday and often scorned by Amish, but some Old Order Amish view him as just a fun, harmless secular symbol so they do include Santa into celebrations. In fact, some of the progressive, New Order Amish who tend to have a more evangelical bent may include Santa less in the holiday than some more conservative Amish. One Amish tourism website in its Christmas traditions section says "There are no Amish communities that practice the tradition of Santa Claus.".....and that simply isn't true....
Gifts: This is another one that, like, Santa is very varied among the Amish. The most insular, conservative Amish won't exchange gifts at all. Middle-of-the-road, traditional Amish usually will exchange gifts, embracing this secular trapping of the holiday. Yet more liberal, progressive Amish often have a more evangelical streak which views gift-giving with some disdain. In the "middle of the road" Amish you'll find a wide variation in gift giving, from simple, hand-made items to Amish who shop from Amazon like everyone else.
This is varied, but Amish across almost all orders do some gift exchanging for Christmas. Often there will be an Amish Christmas family gathering, but that gathering may not happen until February or March because of trying to coordinate so many schedules in huge Amish families. Often the gifts are not wrapped, but, especially for children, wrapped gifts are fairly common and the children are excited about the rustle of packages.
So, you can see the answer is not one-size-fits all, it varies. I tend to see the most conservative settlements celebrating Christmas the least, and by that I mean the very, very conservative Old Orders or Swartzentrubers.
🎄 Another Christmas?
Second Christmas or Old Christmas
This varies greatly from Amish settlement to Amish settlements, but in some communities Dec. 26 is celebrated as a holiday called "second Christmas." Amish Country News describes it as "a day usually of relaxation or visiting others. Christmas dinners are a special part of the celebration, These are usually large meals, not unlike those served at weddings, and various groups beside the family will hold get-togethers, such as single women, teachers, and others of like interest." Not all Amish communities observe this, ditto for January 6, which some Amish settlements celebrate as "Old Christmas", the 12th Day of Christmas.
🕯️ The Grinch? Polar Express? How The Amish Don't Celebrate Christmas.
No Charlie Brown Christmas!
Holiday TV Shows: This one is obvious. But "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Grinch" are not going to be shown on television sets in Amish homes, because Amish homes don't have televisions. So all the festive holiday fare that gets shown the tube isn't seen among the Amish.
Christmas Lights: This is another obvious one. There are no Christmas light displays among the Amish because, well, most of them don't have electricity. And even the ones that do, it would be considered frivolity and garish to have a bunch of lights. This does not mean, however, that the Amish don't enjoy seeing Christmas lights displays that others put up, they do. They just wouldn't put them up themselves.
Reindeer, Elves, and Mistletoe: These secular trappings of Christmas are nowhere to be found in most Amish homes. It's just seen as counter to the core spiritual mission of Christmas. No smooching under the mistletoe.
Christmas Trees: The problem with these types of posts is that in any given population - the Amish are no different - you will find people who don't always follow their church customs. But the vast majority of Amish do not put up a Christmas tree. That would be seen as very secular and not in keeping with a minimalist Christmas.
So, in summation , the Amish do celebration Christmas. The extent varies from place to place depending on local traditions and church rules.