5 Lesser-Known Holidays Observed By Amish

holiday-calendar-german

Amish mark many of the same religious and secular holidays that other Americans do. But they also observe holidays that are not as widely celebrated.

You’ll find five of them below (note: observance may vary between communities).


1. Ascension Day (40th Day After Easter Sunday)

This day marks Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven. It’s a movable holiday, dependent on the date of Easter Sunday. According to various sources including firsthand input from our readers, this day seems to be observed in most Amish communities.

These include Lancaster County, Holmes County, northern Indiana, Ethridge, Tennessee, Conewango Valley, New York, and a number of smaller communities.

In many communities, on Ascension Day, shops will be closed and Amish will spend the day resting, visiting, and spending time with family.

ascension-day-amish-relaxing
Amish enjoy some R and R on Ascension Day

One group which does not appear to observe Ascension Day are the Swiss Amish. Since the Swiss have a different set of customs from other Amish, this is not exactly surprising.

Other churches that observe Ascension Day in some form include Roman Catholics, Anglicans, United Methodists, and the Eastern Orthodox church.

2. Second Christmas (December 26th)

An “old Continental practice”, the second day of Christmas is still observed in European countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Scandinavian countries.

It’s described as a day of family visiting in the Lancaster Amish settlement (see Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits, p. 102). Writing about the same community, Brad Igou describes the day as

usually one of relaxation or visiting others. Christmas dinners are a special part of the celebration, These are usually large meals, not unlike those served at weddings, and various groups beside the family will hold get-togethers, such as single women, teachers, and others of like interest.

Second Christmas is observed in the Lancaster County Amish, while Old Christmas (see below) is not. Photo: Don Shenk

Not to be confused with the day known as Old Christmas or the Epiphany.

Old Christmas is celebrated in some Amish communities on January 6. The origin of the holiday dates back to the 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar to correct the Julian calendar, which had gotten out of sync with the solar year. For those Amish who celebrate it, it’s a day of visiting, food, and family. More on Old Christmas.

3. Church Fast Day (Sunday Between Council Service & Communion)

While not technically a holiday, Amish may fast on the off-Sunday falling between Council Service and Communion. The day may vary by community.

Amish also undergo fasting on a number of official holidays, including Good Friday and the Epiphany.

As in other churches, fasting has spiritual significance for the Amish, and may be accompanied by prayer and devotional readings (see The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, p. 111).

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Visiting is a popular holiday activity. Lancaster County

4. Pentecost Monday (Monday following Pentecost)

This day, like Ascension Day, has a movable date. Pentecost Monday falls on the day after Pentecost, which commemorates the Holy Spirit’s descending upon Jesus’ followers (celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday).

Also known as Whit Monday, the origin of “Whit” is not clear, but possibly a historical reference to white garments once worn by those newly-baptized on the Whit Sunday feast.

A public holiday in many European and Caribbean countries, and observed to some degree in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Another visiting day for Amish.

5. St. Michael’s Day (October 11th)

Also called Michaelmas, this Catholic-origin holiday is celebrated in that denomination as the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Why do the Amish observe this day?

Saint Michael the Archangel. Amish observe St. Michael’s Day (Michaelmas) for different reasons than Catholics do

Brad Igou provides an explanation:

In the old days in Europe, many of the Amish and Mennonites were tenant farmers. Much of the land was owned by the church or aristocrats. Farmers paid a percent of their profits to the landholder every year. The date set by the churches and monasteries in Germany for the farmers to pay their tax was St. Michael’s Day, October 11th. This date fell after the harvest, when the profits and resulting tax could be most accurately assessed.

Today, most of the Amish probably couldn’t even tell you who St. Michael is, or why his day was chosen for fasting and resting. Yet it remains a special day for them, as it was for their ancestors, even if the reason for its observance has changed. It is an example of an old custom that has continued to survive simply because it has become a tradition.

In Western traditions, such as Lutheran and Catholic, the day falls on September 29, while the Greek Orthodox mark it on November 8th.

These of course aren’t the only important days Amish observe. What other Amish holidays or special-day traditions do you know?

Image credits: Children fishing & family in buggy – Ed C.

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    13 Comments

    1. Lynn Wineland

      St Mike's Day

      Never heard of St Michael’s Day. That’s a new one for me.

      1. Amish Girl-Rebecca

        St.Mike's Day

        H-m-m . Never heard of St. Michael’s Day. Do the Amish in PA celebrate it ? Because here in Holmes we never have.
        Also never heard of second Christmas, tho we usually have the day off work and school as an extension of the Christmas holiday.
        We do celebrate Old Christmas or Epiphany as most call it.We have fast day, too.The forenoon is for prayer & fasting to REALLY remember the true meaning of Christmas .
        Lance, I don’t know which community you’re talking about , but here in Holmes we have Fast Day on Ascension and we do go visiting on Fast Days. We also have Fast Days at other times like Good Friday or to unite the whole church in prayer for a certain need,etc. On Fast Day we really only fast in the forenoon. Some church districts will have services on Ascension or Good Friday, the not have services on that Sunday.

        1. Is St. Michael's Day a Lancaster tradition?

          Brad Igou who wrote a piece on it is based in Lancaster County and so that’s likely the case.

        2. Charles P Arnold

          Amish Traditions

          What surprised me was your response on the internet. I was unaware that Amish use electronic devices such as computers.

          1. Epiphany

            Also known as Three Kings Day. I’ve celebrated it for years & when my girls were small we’d leave hay & carrots for the animals who carried the Magi. I have a collection of antique creches & would let the girls pick their favorites every year. The Magi would leave them a small gift.
            Now that they’re grown, we’ve done away with the hay & carrots, but dinner together & a small gift remain.
            Oh, & this year I managed to break my finger while searching for the Christmas Star, which some believe is the one the Wise Men followed. A very small price to pay for such a beautiful sight in our night sky.

    2. Lance

      In the community I was in, 3 of your days were not observed, #’s 2, 4, & 5. Never heard of no holiday on Oct 11th. Pentecost Monday was not observed because Easter Monday was not, either. Both are inventions of man based on misreading of the Bible, I believe. I asked once about second Christmas and they asked, what’s that? So, they never heard of that one either. Such are the vagarities of congregationalism.

      However, regular Christmas was a holiday, but old Christmas was a holy day. Ascension day would be a holiday. Holidays are days of rest, visiting, socializing, etc. Holy days are days of solemn prayer, Bible reading, and often fasting, spent entirely at home. You would never be traveling or away from home on a holy day. If you need to visit a Amish person, the day before or after a holy day are real good bets that they will be home. Just don’t go on the holy day.

    3. Terry from Wisc

      Ascension Day

      Our Amish friends here is WI celebrate the Ascension. I think mostly with a day off work or school, and will most likely visit like they do on an off Sunday. Whether they have church or not I don’t really know. Maybe some ex Amish readers will know the details of the day.

    4. CoraVee Caswell

      Ascention Day

      My Swiss Amish friends celebrate Ascention Day at least in some measure. And they are some of the more (but not most) conservative. Women wear black caps, they have only open buggies, etc. But it is an important day to them, and I don’t think they have much crossover with the other Old Orders.(i.e. Lagrange County.)A world of difference there!!!

    5. Donette

      Lev 23

      Why do the Amish celebrate manmade holidays that are not in the Bible, such as Dec25, Easter… but not celebrate the 7 Holy Feasts commanded to be observed by the mixed multitude for all generations?

    6. Angie San Antonian

      I’ve been thinking about going to the country, leave the city, but when young I had to go to work and needed to be close to the city and have a good working car. Now, 72 plus, I will be a burden for anybody. what do they think about old people in need of company and care maybe and with 4 small dogs? I have my retirement but know nothing about growing, planting, canning, etc.

      1. Brian Mast

        @ Angie

        The question you have asked can’t be answered in a simple reply comment. You have much to learn. Your best bet is to go to http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com , listen to relevant past podcasts, and partake in the online community there, including their MeWe group.

      2. re: Angie

        The community I live in in South Florida offers the best of both country living with city access. I’m less than 45 minutes to a major airport, & less than 10 miles to a Super Walmart. We have a minimum of 1.25 acre lots, many of which offer mother-in-law apartments. We’re agricultural/residential here so you can turn your whole property into a garden, or have a few horses, chickens, goats, etc. Depending on your health & level of activity, you can choose to take care of your property yourself, higher someone to do so for you, or find a happy medium.
        Remember that you’re only a burden if you CHOOSE to be. I have a neighbor in his 80s who still does most of his own home repairs & mowing, despite not being in what most would consider the “best of health”.
        I hope this helps some, & you’re in my prayers.

    7. Amish holidays

      We kept all these holidays as Amish in Lancaster. Although October 11 was not celebrated as St. Michaels Day. It was our fast and prayer day between council meeting and communion.