Christmas is the most important holiday that is celebrated by the Amish people. In fact, Christmas is so important in the Amish community that it is celebrated over the course of two days.
December 25th is always reserved for fasting, meditations, scripture readings, and other religious activities that focus on the solemn celebration of the birth of Christ.
December 26th, or Second Christmas, is meant for celebrating the season with family and friends with gatherings, feasts, and gift giving.
This is not to say that these Amish activities are the same as the traditional Christmas celebrations that are observed by most Americans because they are quite different in many ways.
Amish Christmas celebrations vary depending on what part of the country the Amish family is located and how strict that particular Amish community is.
While no Amish community practices the tradition of Santa Claus, some Amish families may decorate a tree with candles or send out Christmas cards, while other Amish families consider these practices too extravagant and unnecessary.
It really depends on the beliefs of that particular Amish community as to what types of Christmas traditions they may or may not follow.
These traditions often include lighting candles and placing them in the windows throughout the Amish home meant to symbolize the birth of Christ.
Multi-pointed stars, angels, and greenery are also popular decorations used at Christmastime in many Amish homes. Stars and angels might be cut out and strung on stings around the Amish house with popcorn, or live greenery might be used to decorate hearths or over doorways and windows.
Decorating the Amish church is also a custom that is often practiced by Amish parishioners. This usually involves building a nativity scene or "putz" outside of the church or creating ones for display outside various Amish homes in the community.
These nativity scenes are often put together by the Amish children in order to better understand the story of the baby Jesus and might consist of wooden or clay figures.
The entire Amish community or family will often get together to build the church or home nativity scenes which are meant to evoke quiet contemplation and focus on the meaning of the season.
Contrary to popular belief, Amish families do exchange gifts on Christmas.
Most Amish families usually pick names out of a hat and give one Christmas gift to one family member each year.
These gifts are usually handmade or useful in nature. Younger Amish children will receive handmade clothes, rag dolls, wooden toys, or books.
Older Amish girls might receive household items that they can add to their hope chests for use later in life when they are married and have children, such as china, quilts, and other house wares.
Older Amish boys might receive tools for use on the farm or other useful projects. Amish wives typically receive cooking or sewing implements and Amish husbands might get a tool or something for the horses.
The traditional Christmas dinner is usually the highlight of the Christmas celebration in the Amish home.
These meals are generally very elaborate and similar in nature to the Amish wedding dinners which might include roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, salads, fruits, breads, cakes, cookies, pies, and candies.
Just about every Amish family holds some sort of Christmas meal and gathering. Because of this, many of the Christmas celebrations continue on well into February since it would be impossible to go to all of the gatherings in just two short days.
At the Amish schoolhouse, a Christmas program is usually planned and it is one of the most anticipated events of the year.
Amish children may spend weeks, months, or even the entire year in preparation for the annual Christmas program that will be presented to the entire Amish community.
The Amish children will make decorations, sing songs, tell stories, read poems, and put on stage plays in order to celebrate the meaning of Christmas.
Many times these presentations are humorous in nature and are one of the few times that they are allowed to "perform" in front of an audience.
Special Amish cookies and candies might be made, served, and exchanged. Gifts such as specially made Amish quilts, toys, or other wooden crafts might be exchanged between the children or the teacher.
Most Amish children continue going to school throughout the Christmas season because they are usually let out earlier than non-Amish children in preparation for the coming spring harvest.
Non-Amish visitors might be invited to join in on the Amish Christmas celebrations as well. While the Amish shun modern society, this does not mean they don't have non-Amish or "English" friends and acquaintances.
Many Amish families work at non-Amish companies or conduct business with those not involved in the Amish faith and community.
They are often considered good friends and are invited to the Christmas program at the Amish school or for a meal at their homes. If the Amish community practices the exchange of Christmas cards, it is usually for their non-Amish friends.
Overall, the main focus of the Christmas season in the Amish home is to honor and celebrate the Christ child. While much time is devoted to prayer and scripture, spending time with the family in relaxation and laughter is just as important to the Amish community.
Written by Chrysta Lea BakerTheAmishQuilt.com