In my 15-plus years spent working with the Amish, I’ve grown to appreciate much about their ways, but few other times of the year spark this respect and admiration more than Christmas.

 

Christmas is an important holiday for the Amish, but the ways in which they observe and celebrate it are quite different from most other Americans. There are many things you’ll see and hear at a traditional American Christmas celebration that are nowhere to be found in an Amish home.

 

For starters, you won’t see or hear any mention of Santa Claus. You won’t hear Christmas albums from the latest pop music stars blaring throughout an Amish home, either. You won’t see a stream of electric icicle lights stretched across an Amish roof, nor will you find a gaudy tree in the living room window, shining brightly for the whole neighborhood to see.

 

What you will discover in Amish country, however, is a group of people who hold the true meaning of Christmas intact. The ways in which the Amish observe Christmas vary, depending on which order they belong to, but they all keep the birth of Jesus at the center of their celebration.

 

As for decorations, electric lights are not acceptable, but some Amish communities will place candles in their windows, while displaying wreaths on their dining tables or over their fireplace mantles. Also, it’s actually quite common, no matter the order, to see Christmas cards from friends and family hung on the wall or the mantle.

 

Another aspect of an Amish Christmas which is not widely known to outsiders is Old Christmas. Celebrated on January 6th, Old Christmas is observed as the day on which the Wise Men presented the baby Jesus with gifts and worshipped him.

 

On Christmas Day, December 25th, morning scripture reading is a widely observed tradition. The entire household will often gather around and listen as the story of Christ’s birth is read from the family Bible.

 

Gift-giving amongst family and friends is also a big part of the holiday. Many of their gifts are hand-made, and much like their timeless pieces of furniture, considerable time and effort is often put into their crafting.

 

Dolls are popular gifts for young girls, while young boys receive other small wooden toys. For the young women, quilts and books are common gift items, while the young men typically receive hunting equipment or sporting goods, such as baseball gloves.

 

Meanwhile, adults usually receive practical gifts that are used in their everyday lives. Sewing and cooking utensils are typical for the wives, and the husbands often receive tools for working in the shop or out on the farm. Clothing items, such as scarves and mittens, can be received by anyone in the family.

 

An Amish Christmas wouldn’t be complete, of course, without an elaborate feast. Like on Thanksgiving, the Amish spare no effort as they prepare their Christmas dinner. Meat, such as roasted chicken, is usually served, along with mashed potatoes and gravy, bread, fruit, cookies, cakes and pies. I’ve included some of the popular Amish recipes below.

 

Christmas is such a large, important event for the Amish that a single day sometimes isn’t long enough to cover the full slate of activities. Some communities will celebrate Christmas on both the 25th and 26th in order to accommodate traveling families.

 

It’s common for wood shops to shut down for a week, or even two weeks, to allow the shop owner and his employees to visit their families and celebrate the birth of Christ. The other reason the shop owners do this is because the Christmas season is the busiest time of year for the Amish furniture-making industry, and after working many long, hard hours, time for reflection and focus on family is much needed.

 

It must also be mentioned that Amish children, like those across the rest of the country, thoroughly enjoy themselves at Christmas time. Yes, they’re taught about the true meaning of Christmas at a young age, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had outdoors during this exciting time of year. Ice skating and sled riding are popular activities. The children also enjoy playing games and building snowmen, and there may even be a snowball fight, or two, before all is said and done.

 

There are numerous differences between an Amish Christmas and a traditional American one. Although more subtle, there are also differences between various Amish communities in how they observe the holiday. Regardless of what order they belong to, the Amish share one common practice during this special time of year: they keep the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus – at the forefront of their celebration.

 

RECIPES:

 

Sweet Potato Casserole

 

3 c. cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

¾ c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

¼ c. milk

½ c. butter

 

Topping:

1 c. brown sugar

½ c. flour

½ c. margarine

½ c. chopped pecans

 

Mix all ingredients together and put in a greased baking pan. For topping, mix brown sugar, flour and margarine together until crumbly. Stir in pecans and place on top of potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

 

….

 

Lemon Sponge Pie

 

2 eggs, separated

2 Tbsp. flour

1 c. milk

1 c. sugar

1 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 lemon, juice and grated rind (zest)

1 unbaked pie crust

 

Prepare your pie crust and line an 8” pie pan with it.

Mix butter and sugar so that butter is completely incorporated into sugar. Beat egg yolks into cup of milk, slowly adding in flour. Whisk until all lumps are gone. Blend well with sugar and butter.

 

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside. Add lemon juice and zest to yolk, milk, and flour mixture. Stir to mix together. Fold stiffly beaten egg whites into milk mixture. Pour into pie crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes in oven preheated to 300 degrees. For last 8-10 minutes, turn oven temp to 375 to get color on crust and on top of pie. Cool on a wire rack. Chill at least two hours or overnight before serving.

 

….

 

Sugar Pie

 

1 unbaked 8” pie shell

1 c. brown sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ c. evaporated milk

3 Tbsp. butter

cinnamon to taste

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend sugar, flour and salt together in small bowl. Spread in bottom of pie shell. Pour milk over the sugar mixture but do not stir. Dot with the butter and sprinkle cinnamon over all. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until filling bubbles in center.

 

….

 

Apple Cake

 

½ c. chopped pecans

2 ½ c. finely chopped apples

½ c. butter

1 c. sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. vanilla

1 c. all-purpose flour

 

Hot Caramel Sauce:

½ c. butter

1 c. brown sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

½ c. evaporated milk

 

Cream the butter in a large bowl. Add in sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well-blended. Mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add flour and stir until blended. Stir in apples and nuts.

 

Pour into an oiled, 9” round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes until top springs back when touched lightly with finger.

 

Serve with hot caramel sauce: In a saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and milk. Serve warm sauce over cake.

 

….

 

Vanilla Pie

 

For filling:

¼ c. sugar

¼ c. brown sugar

½ c. molasses (can substitute light corn syrup)

1 c. water

1 egg, well-beaten

1 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. vanilla

1 unbaked 9” pie shell

 

For topping:

1 c. flour

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. lard, butter, margarine or vegetable shortening

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

 

For filling:  Combine the sugars, molasses, water, egg and flour in saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling until thickened. Allow to cool and stir in vanilla. Pour into unbaked shell.

 

For topping:  Melt shortening and then stir flour, baking powder, baking soda and brown sugar into shortening. Crumble mixture over pie shell.

 

Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes.

 

….

 

Bakery Rolls

 

2 Tbsp. yeast

1 c. warm water

1 c. sugar

1 c. butter

2 c. scalded milk

2 tsp. salt

4 eggs (beaten)

8-10 c. flour

2 c. mashed potatoes

 

Dissolve yeast in water and 1 Tbsp. sugar until bubbly. Mix scalded milk with remaining sugar and butter; add potatoes. Pour in yeast mixture. Add salt and eggs, then add flour. Let rise 1 hour. Knead down and let rise until double. Roll out ¼ ” thick. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up and let rise for 20 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

 

….