Tag Archives: amish experience

How do the Amish Celebrate Christmas?

Visitors are typically curious about the differences between the Amish way of living and ours – things like not using electricity or traveling by horse & buggy or scooter rather than cars. This time of year, that curiosity turns to the Christmas holidays, and wondering how the Amish celebrate Christmas. Do they give each other presents? Do they have a big holiday meal?

To help you understand how the Amish celebrate Christmas, we talked to a local culture expert, Brad Igou of the Amish Experience.

Let’s start off with the obvious one. Do the Amish celebrate Christmas?

Yes, they do, although their customs are much simpler than our “English” customs. They are oriented toward the family and the religious meaning of the holiday.

What do you mean by English customs?

“English” is the term that the Amish use for non-Amish.

Do the Amish put up a Christmas tree, or lights around the house?

There are no lavishly decorated trees or lights around in the house, and the Amish children do not visit Santa Claus to have their picture taken, or tell him their wish list. They do share the making of special Christmas cookies and candies with us though, and they might decorate with greens and candles.

Do the Amish exchange gifts?

School children often pick names and exchange small gifts, such as writing paper or needlepoint kits. Families also exchange some small gifts – and some send Christmas cards, often to their “English” friends. Christmas card making is a very popular tradition – adults & children make handmade “stamped” Christmas cards – some of them are now even sold in Amish stores.

Interesting – if we wanted to pick some up, could we find them at the Amish Experience?

Absolutely, and at the Gordonville Bookstore has an entire “hand-stamping section.”

Do they have Christmas Eve & Christmas Day church services, and sing carols or traditional hymns?

The Christmas church service may or may not be held on December 25, but both Christmas and the following day, sometimes called “second Christmas,” are holidays for the Amish. The second day is usually one to relax or visit others.

Amish children put on a Christmas program each year in their one-room schoolhouse – this is probably the only time you’ll see Amish children on a “stage.” During their Christmas program, the children sing songs, perform skits and recite poems. This is not something that visitors would get to see. Typically just family will attend, and occasionally, they’ll invite their “English” neighbors or friends to come as well.

Okay, last question – do the Amish eat a special Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinners are absolutely a big part of the holiday for the Amish. They are usually large meals, not unlike those served at weddings, and various groups besides the family will hold get-togethers, such as single women, teachers, and others of like interest. These gatherings may continue into January and February of the new year.

Any last comments or tidbits of information for us?

I think that, although we all share our own holiday traditions, what any holiday is about is enjoying cherished memories and traditions with family and friends, as well as remembering those less fortunate than ourselves.

Come here to learn more about the Amish

Did you know that the Amish have a horse-drawn trailer that contains benches, hymnals, and all the other items necessary for Sunday church services at one another’s homes? Or, did you know that the Amish are often bi-lingual, speaking English, German, and “Pennsylvania Dutch?”

For those inquisitive and curious minds who want to learn more about the Amish lifestyle and culture first-hand, a great place to check out is the is the Amish Experience. Located on route 340 in the heart of Amish country, this educational destination is the only location of its kind in Lancaster County to be named a “Heritage Site” by the Lancaster County Historical Society. And, unlike other museums or destinations, The Amish Experience is surrounded on all sides by farmland beauty; rural, rolling farmland, horses, cows, cornfields, and even a fruit market that set the scene for what guests will enjoy during their visit. The Amish Experience is also a perfect option for your Sunday itinerary because many other Amish destinations are closed.

So, on a sunny Sunday in June, I surprised my out of town guests with a visit to the Experience. As we toured the grounds, we enjoyed walking through rows of vegetables and herbs which are part of the museum garden. We learned that many guests had never seen what a beet, sweet pea, or potato plant actually looked like, and we enjoyed listening to the excited laughter of children when they saw a real tomato growing on a vine. We enjoyed seeing (up close) a laundry line of colorful Amish clothing, fresh from the wash, and hanging out to dry in the warm summer air. And, yes, even an Amish phone booth!

The homestead tour was fascinating. Even as a resident of Lancaster, I learned numerous things about the Amish that I had never known before. Our favorite part of the tour was the Schoolhouse, where we were able to learn from our tour guide while sitting in authentic desks donated from an actual schoolhouse in the neighboring town of Strasburg. We also got to browse through a real Amish Hymnal and see workbooks that Amish children would use.

A unique part of the Amish Experience is the theatre show “Jacob’s Choice,” which brings to life the story of an Amish teen who is struggling with his decision to join the church. The show boasts surprising special effects, and a story that is certain to touch the hearts of all who see it.

As we got in the car to head home, I couldn’t help but think of the “Jacob’s Choice” story, and ponder the similarities that we, as human beings, share, regardless of what lifestyle we choose or what path we walk. We all experience joy, sorrow, and the pursuit of happiness – whatever that may be. And while sometimes we have our differences, the more we learn about other ways of life, the more we realize that we’re all in this together.

A VIP Tour that’s available to all

I embarked on the Amish Experience’s Amish V.I.P. (“Visit in Person”) Tour along with our Public Relations Director, Joel Cliff.  The V.I.P. tour is a fantastic opportunity to visit with our Amish neighbors in a more personal and intimate setting.

When I first heard the tour was three hours, it seemed like a long span of time, but when the tour was finished I couldn’t believe how quickly the time went.  I was engaged throughout the entire tour, as was even the youngest member of our group, a 6-year-old girl from Canada.

We boarded a very comfortable 14-seat air-conditioned bus and our driver and tour guide, Joanne, began our journey with some background on the Amish community and their history in the area.  Our first stop was at Esh’s dairy farm, where owner Jake showed us how they milk cows and told us all about life on the dairy farm.  Our young little Canadian even had the opportunity to bottle feed one of the calves.

We toured the barn where we saw buggy horses and work mules, then headed to the quilt shop where they sold gorgeous handmade quilts and other beautiful gifts.

Our next stop was at the Leola Buggy Shop to see how buggies are made and refurbished.  It was really neat to learn about the types of buggies, the various features that can be ordered, and the differences between Mennonite and Amish buggies.

Our final stop was an Amish home where we warmly welcomed by Steven and his family.  We toured the kitchen and common area, then had the opportunity to sit in the living room to listen to stories and ask whatever questions we wanted:  “Do you pay taxes?”  “How long do the kids go to school?”  “Do you still do barn raisings?” etc.  This was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the tour – I mean, how many people have the chance to sit and talk with an Amish family and realize that, in a lot of ways, they are just like you and me?

Throughout our tour, Joanne kept us entertained with fun facts, answered our questions, and told us how she came to live and work in Lancaster County.  (Originally from Long Island, she visited Lancaster on her honeymoon and fell in love with the area … for more details, ask her yourself!)  The other guests – visiting from Long Island, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Canada – couldn’t say enough wonderful things about the outing.

If you would like to learn about the Amish, and see how they live, work and play firsthand, then book your Amish V.I.P. Tour today at www.AmishExperience.com.

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