December 20, 2012

Amish Christmas Customs

Most Amish schools prepare Christmas pageants. Since Amish children attend school right up till Christmas Day, the pageant is generally set for the afternoon of December 24. Parents and other relatives attend and watch with pride as their young people recite poems and take part in skits—many of which contain moral teachings about Christmas charity, faith, and love—and sing Christmas carols.

Earlier that day the children may have taken part in a gift exchange in which each child, having drawn a slip of paper with another child’s name on it, brings a present for that boy or girl. For most Amish, Christmas morning begins with farm chores. Afterwards the family gathers for breakfast and Christmas gifts in the kitchen. In nineteenth-century Amish families, parents set out plates on the kitchen table and piled their children’s presents on top. They usually gave their children things like nuts, raisins, cookies, candy, and rag dolls and other homemade toys. Other Pennsylvania Dutch families also set out Christmas plates in past times. The custom of setting out Christmas presents on the kitchen table seems to have died out among other groups, however. Today Amish families exchange a few useful gifts on Christmas morning. Typical gifts include simple toys such as skates and sleds, books, homemade candies and cookies, kitchenware, and household items. A large Christmas dinner completes the day’s activities.

On December 26 the Amish celebrate “second Christmas.” This custom, once common in Pennsylvania Dutch country, came into being so that those who devoted much of December 25 to religious observance did not miss out on all the Christmas fun. It’s a popular day for family outings, visits, games, and other leisure activities.

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