Amish Christmas Traditions

What You Won’t Find

As the sounds of Nat King Cole crooning about roasting chestnuts over the open fire float through the house, and you begin decorating the home, start your shopping, and start the baking of your world-famous holiday cookies, the Amish embark on a different journey to enjoy the Christmas season.

The Amish believe in Christmas and Christ just like you as an ‘English’ person. However, they do not partake in many of the traditional customs of a North American Christmas. You will not find Christmas trees, over-the-top holiday lighting, and stressed out parents worrying about getting little Jack and Jill the perfect gift and racing to the mall to see Santa.  Most Amish consider these “trappings” that detract from the story of Christ.

Amish generally believe that the more decorations are involved, the less Christ is involved.  Amish families tend to focus on two core elements for the Christmas season, Christ and Family.  They use the time during the holiday season to reflect on their biblical values and beliefs.

What You Will Find

You may find simpler Amish customs such as lighting candles, representing the birth of Christ.  Other families, depending on their individual church customs and allowances, may decorate their homes with other things like wreaths, angels, garland and other natural elements or greenery. On Christmas day, the Christmas church service may or may not be held on December 25th depending on the local church.  Some families read the historical Biblical account of the birth of Jesus in a family setting on Christmas day.  But just like any other day for the Amish, chores must be done as horses need feed and the cows need milked.  When the chores are done the family has breakfast and the gift giving begins.

As the Amish are committed to remaining separate from the world, Amish children will not receive the latest X-box, iPhone or other gaming devices.  Instead, children will receive simpler gifts such as books, dolls, or wooden toys. They may also receive sporting equipment such as baseball gloves, bats, and volleyball sets.  Both volleyball and softball are popular games in the Amish communities as a form of healthy recreation. Amish men and women are likely to receive practical gifts that can be used at work, on the farm, or in the home.  

Every Amish School has a Christmas program performed by school aged children that is often the highlight of the year.  Songs are sung, poems read, and skits performed that focus mostly on Christmas and the fundamentals of giving and joy. Homemade gifts or crafts may be exchanged between children, and between children and teacher. Once the festivities of gift giving are over, the family gathers for a large Christmas feast with friends and family.

Second Christmas

The Amish also have what they call Zwedde Grischtdaag, which means Second Christmas, and is celebrated the day after Christmas. Both days are considered a holiday and time of rest for the whole family.

Old Christmas

And believe it or not, the Amish celebrate Christmas three times!  At this point, it’s unfortunate, but essential for a little historical background. In the Middle Ages December 25th marked the beginning of a twelve-day feast period (you may have heard of a little Christmas carol called “The Twelve Days of Christmas”) that coincided with the pagan celebration of the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar, which was based on moon phases.

But in 1582 the Julian calendar was scrapped in favor of the Gregorian calendar invented by Pope Gregory XII.  However, Protestant groups, which included the Anabaptist, ancestors to todays Amish, told the Pope, ‘thanks but no thanks’ we’ll stick with the Julian calendar.   And the Amish traditions remains some 435 years later.

So, adding twelve days of ‘feasting’ to December 25th takes you to January 6th, and is known as the Epiphany. Amish businesses are closed, and this is regarded as the most religious of the Amish Christmas holidays. Members will fast until noon before getting together with family and friends for a celebratory meal and enjoy their time together before the cycle of the new year begins in earnest.