My grandfather’s family was Amish, and since many of my friends and co-workers know this they often ask me if the Amish celebrate Christmas or other holidays.
The Amish do celebrate Christmas, but in a much more subdued way than the “English’ or non-Amish. They also celebrate two Christmases.
Christmas is probably the most celebrated holiday, but is observed as a family and kinship, rather than as a ceremonial, holiday. The Amish observe it in their own way without a Christmas tree and without Santa Claus.
The Amish do exchange gifts at Christmas, but they are usually either handmade or practical gifts. Common gifts are handmade toys for the children and items that can be used in daily life for adults such as kitchen items or farming tools.
They may have some simple decorations such as greenery and candles, but no images of people such as Santa Claus or nativity scenes.
Observance varies from settlement to settlement as each church district has their own independent ordnung (rules) or traditions.
Christmas meals are usually big holiday feasts and would be very similar to our Thanksgiving or Christmas meals. These are typically large gatherings as Amish families typically have more children. Imagine going to a Christmas meal with dozens of your cousins. My grandfather had more than 100 first cousins.
First, since it goes along with the picture above, January 6 is celebrated as the day when the Three Wise Men visited Christ and gave their gifts. This is also 12 days after Christmas and is the end of the 12 days of Christmas. This day is also known as Epiphany as it is the day that Christ was revealed. Different religious traditions differ as to which event in Christ’s life is celebrated. Some celebrate the visit of the three wise men while others celebrate either the first miracle at the wedding at Cana or the baptism of Jesus. Although this is sometimes given as the reason for Old Christmas this is unlikely why the Amish celebrate the day.
A better explanation for celebrating Old Christmas is the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. When the calendar changed in 1582 the Catholic church set the date of Christmas to December 25. Many protestant groups, including the Amish, continued to use the older Gregorian calendar for holidays. This is why it is referred to as Old Christmas.
Old Christmas is celebrated a bit different than Christmas. There is still a large gathering of family together and the sharing of a feast. However, the Amish fast until noon on this day and the feast is in the afternoon or evening.
Old Christmas is the more important of the two Christmas days and there has been some talk among the Amish of only celebrating Old Christmas in the future.