© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.
Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.
There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.
The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.
Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.
The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.
Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.
Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.
From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.
Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.
Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.
After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.
Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.
Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.
Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.
No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
Scanning through some photo files, I found several photos of Amish farms in December. These photos were all taken in or near Holmes County, Ohio.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.
The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.
One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.
I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.
I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.
The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.
The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.
This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
When you have a big birthday, you celebrate it in a big way. At age 75, however, it’s best to do so gradually.
That’s not usually how I approach things. Given the circumstance, going slow and steady was the formula I needed and certainly enjoyed. Pacing myself proved to be the best alternative to enjoying each moment.
My oldest grandson gave us an early jump on my birthday. He was home from college for Thanksgiving, so we ate at a local restaurant on Thanksgiving eve. The family time around a chef-prepared meal allowed everyone to enjoy the evening together.
My birthday extravaganza continued. My dear wife secretly arranged an overnight stay in a neat bed and breakfast less than an hour away the next weekend.
On the way there, we drove southeast across country roads that wound through Civil War battlegrounds fought on land still farmed in rural Shenandoah Valley. To the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains rose majestically, guiding us onward. Farther to the west, the Allegheny Mountains marked the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. The ancient mountains east and west provide an innate sense of security.
We made sure we stopped at Milmont Greenhouses in Stuarts Draft. They always display colorful poinsettias and other lovely flowers for the holidays. We selected a few small pink and white poinsettias for our daughter and headed for our bed and breakfast. We met our gracious hostess, who showed us our spacious and comfy second-floor suite. We had a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
My wife also had scoped out the town’s eateries and made reservations at the top-rated spot. Since we had plenty of time, I suggested we take a short ride to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and hope for an inspiring sunset despite the mostly cloudy day.
There were a few west-facing overlooks not far from the park’s southern entrance. We found the second one more favorable than the first and kept watch there.
As often happens over the mountains, the clouds thickened as daylight waned. Still, we noticed a break in the clouds just above the farthest mountain range.
The wind picked up just as the sun briefly broke through. From the overlook, we saw first-hand how the Blue Ridge Mountains earned their folklore name. A series of blue ridges led right to the setting sun’s soft orange glow. I snapped a couple of shots before darkness overtook us.
More than satisfied, we headed south but soon had to stop for a doe and her yearling to cross in front of us. Their brown coats naturally blended in with the dormant roadside vegetation.
Despite the minor delay, we arrived at the downtown restaurant right on time. Our delicious meals and our friendly waitress, who knew how to care for her customers, made for a splendid outing.
When we arrived back at the bed and breakfast, our host’s husband entertained us with the history of the old brick mansion. He then cranked up the beautiful player piano with a few Christmas tunes. He talked a lot but said very little. I preferred the piano.
At this point, I must confess that spreading out my birthday celebration was advantageous to my health. For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had significantly risen in recent weeks. Following my doctor’s orders, I took things easy. It was all I could do anyhow. This day had been good for me, though. My evening blood pressure reading was the lowest it had been in weeks.
In the morning, our hosts provided a scrumptious meal of shirred eggs and bacon, and they even had gluten-free fruit-infused bread for me. It was an excellent way to start the new day.
We said goodbye and drove into town to the P. Buckley Moss gallery. Since Waynesboro was ringing in the holidays this particular Saturday, the famous artist greeted patrons for part of the day. We arrived shortly after the store opened and had a friendly chat with Ms. Moss. She even signed the Christmas tree ornament we purchased that she had painted. The artistry depicted a winter scene only a few miles from our home, the historic Silver Lake Mill.
We caught lunch just down the street, and it was time to head home. With the sun shining brightly through low broken clouds, I had to stop and take a few scenic photos. We spent the rest of the day watching football and basketball and enjoying the birds at the feeders.
I awoke much too early Sunday morning. I could tell I would have to take it easy on my birthday. My blood pressure had spiked again.
Many friends on social media expressed their best wishes for me on my big day while we attended church. I greatly appreciated all of their kind thoughts. They came from former students and teachers, friends and family, and people I have never met. That’s how social media is supposed to work.
After an uplifting worship service, we went to our daughter’s home, which is just up the hill from the church. We dropped off the poinsettias and popped two casseroles into the oven. I enjoyed some quiet time with our grand dog, Millie. We visited with our daughter and her family and then drove to a friend’s house for one of the small groups to which we belong. Neva had baked my favorite cake, an upside-down pineapple cake. I blew out the lone candle, and we enjoyed the carry-in food and genuine fellowship until mid-afternoon.
We wound down my big day quietly, watching more sports and fixer-upper TV shows. Just as we settled in for the night, our son sent a text that made my birthday complete. Our six-month-old grandson had his first solid bowel movement.
I couldn’t think of a better way to end my progressive 75th birthday celebration.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022