It's been awhile since I've written a blog and even longer since I've had one of my Amish question and answer sessions with Henry, so I finally made a point to sit down and interview him the other night. This time, we tackled the holidays and how the Amish celebrate. Enjoy.
Do Amish celebrate the same holidays as we do?
"Some of them. There are a few that they don't, but they also add a couple."
What holidays do they celebrate?
"It's easier to point out the ones they don't celebrate, so let's go that route. They don't celebrate Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July or Halloween."
So, basically they stick to religious holidays?
"They celebrate all of the religious holidays. The ones that have meaning anyway. The ones we Americans have created out of the blue they could care less about."
What about Thanksgiving?
"They don't recognize it as a religious holiday, but they say we have enough to be thankful for that they recognize it."
What do they do differently on religious holidays?
"On all the religious holidays, they fast. They won't eat breakfast or drink, and they'll spend the morning in prayer. Then, they'll have a big meal at noon because they're starved, of course."
Even little kids?
"No. Only the baptized, members of the church."
What's Christmas look like for Amish?
"On Christmas, they'll have Christmas programs in school, where they exchange gifts and such. Most families will exchange gifts at home, but on a very, very small scale. There are no Christmas trees or Christmas decorations. They'll have a bigger meal than usual to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas."
So what kind of gifts do they receive for Christmas?
"They get practical items that they actually need or use, not just toys. They might get new shoes, boots, candies, oranges and grapefruits. Really basic stuff."
Do they bake a lot during the holidays?
"They make lots of homemade candies and things like that."
So what are their thoughts on Santa? Do they just think we're ignorant?
"They know it's all a hoax and that it's actually not true, so they don't market it to the kids so much. Kids know about Santa and hear about it, but don't practice it. Some parents will actually shy away from the idea completely because they don't think it's honest and truthful."
What are some of the holidays they celebrate that we don't?
"Ascension Day, or 40 days after Easter, is a big one. And they actually celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, not Dec. 25."
What? You never told me that before. Really? (Insert very dumbfounded look.)
"Yes I did. (No, he didn't.) They celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday, on Jan. 6 because that's when they feel Jesus was actually born. That's the religious holiday for them. They'll exchange gifts and stuff on Dec. 25, but won't fast. They'll fast and spend time in prayer on Jan. 6."
Why Jan. 6?
"There was a big meeting about this about a 100 years ago or so. The Amish say that whenever the calendar was changed to be 365 days, to round everything out, what used to be Dec. 25 is now Jan. 6, so that's the reason behind it."
So will they have turkey on Thanksgiving, or just butcher a chicken from the yard?
"Yes. They usually have turkey that day."
Do they gather with friends and family on holidays?
"On the days you fast, you stay home before noon. After noon, they'll visit and such, just like any other Sunday. Religious holidays are treated like Sundays. They won't work, and with the addition of fasting on religious holidays, it's pretty much like any Sunday would be."
When you say "no work" does that include chores?
"No. The animals still have to be taken care of, and household chores are still done."
What about birthdays? That could be a lot of birthdays to celebrate. (Henry is one of 11 children.)
"A lot of times, especially in the winter months, they'll freeze their own ice cream, have cake and maybe chips. (Insert a giggle from me.) You have to understand that's special because those things are not staple items. Or, maybe they'll even have pizza. Again, no gifts are given on birthdays, unless it's your 21st birthday, which is the big one."
"All Amish kids work for their parents until their 21st birthday. So all of the money they make goes directly to their parents, and in return, the parents provide everything they need. At 21, they are on their own and free to do their own thing. The boys, on their 21st birthday, will usually get a horse and buggy from his parents, a nice solid wood desk, like mine, and mom makes a few homemade quilts for him. The girls get some other homemade furniture, quilts, household items and some families will give them a horse and buggy too. It will even out, so they are both treated equally, boys and girls.
"My parents always kept a notebook for each kid. Over the years, when neighbors or friends would give us money for a gift or as a tip for doing work, my parents would write it down in that book. That includes the money they received from friends when we were born, too. It starts that early. Then, when we turned 21, they would give us that money. For me, it was about $1,000."