Amish Christmas in Canada

Ruth Streicher lives in an Amish community on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Ruth recently shared thoughts on how Amish celebrate Christmas for the Manitoulin Expositor. First, as with most things Amish, Christmas traditions vary:

“We celebrate the birth of Christ,” Ruth Streicher of Tehkummah smiled gently when asked about the Amish Christmas traditions. “But there are differences in how families observe Christmas. Some are more conservative than others.”

What about Santa?

Although Santa Claus is not part of an Amish Christmas, some families are not so strict, said Ms. Streicher, quickly qualifying that she does not mean that to be critical of anyone in any way. “I think part of it is that people are concerned that if you play make believe with children about Santa Claus, they might start questioning whether Jesus is real or not.”

Ruth Streicher of the Manitoulin Island Amish community. Photo by Michael Erskine

On Christmas decor:

Like many Christian denominations the Amish avoid graven images, you won’t find crèches, images of the three wise men or the baby Jesus displayed in the home or yard like you might a Catholic home, for instance, but simple decorations such as wreaths and candles are fairly common ways to dress up the home for Christmas celebrations. Christmas cards are also a fondly looked upon Christmas tradition.

And:

Although many Amish families do follow the tradition of placing a candle in the window of their homes at Christmas, welcoming the birth of the Christ child and serving as a beacon to visitors, there are no brightly coloured lights to be found or a shimmering Christmas tree.

The article (no longer available) also describes the practice of visiting at the holidays, and holiday foods.

Image: Jim Halverson

Amish on Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin’s claim to fame is that it is the largest freshwater lake island in the world. I was not aware of this Amish community, and it sounds like it is a relatively new settlement.

When Amish move into a new area, people unfamiliar with Amish ways want to know more: “People had a lot of questions when we first moved here,” said Ruth,“They wondered if we eat pork (we do) and all kinds of other questions. People had no idea about us and they were curious.”

Sounds like the community has settled in well, and is growing. The article is both a window on Amish Christmas traditions, and a general look at Amish beliefs and practice. Read it in full here.

Amish Card-giving tradition

Several years back we had a post on the common Amish practice of giving cards at Christmas. I recently re-shared it on the Amish America Facebook page. I enjoyed hearing how people uphold this tradition with Amish friends and neighbors. Here are a few replies from the FB post:

Our Amish friends sent us cards. They were so sweet and encouraging. I really enjoyed them.

Another:

I have always received Christmas cards from all of my Amish friends. They are always homemade and contain bible verses. The sender writes a lovely personal note as well! Grounded in what Christmas is truly about. Now that we have moved to Lancaster County ourselves we often get together for a day of cardmaking! The kids come home from school and help with the coloring!


And:

Yes they do some are simple but useful I appreciate that. One of my Amish friends gave me peanut butter balls (which I love) one year and I gave candy to the kids it was precious to me.

And here’s someone taking the initiative:

We moved to our farm in March. We haven’t had a chance to introduce ourselves to all our Amish neighbors so we wrote up some Christmas cards and snuck around last Saturday night and placed them in all their mail boxes. It was a lot of fun.

5 Ways that Amish Celebrate Christmas

Rebecca Miller of Holmes County, Ohio, wrote a guest post a couple of Christmases back, on five ways that her family celebrates the season, which you might enjoy.

First on her list was youth Christmas caroling:

I have been asked this question numerous times, and as with any other aspect of Amish life, there is no cut and dried answer. But I’ll tell you, our readers, how my family celebrates.

1. Youth Christmas Caroling

The other Thursday evening our youth group of around 70 youth gathered at a host family’s home. From there we split into 5 groups, with 4 of the groups of around 12 each going with vans, and the rest, about 20 or so, walking to a nearby nursing home.

The next couple hours were spent singing for old folks, widows, and house-bound people. We had also brought grocery bags, gift baskets, and fruit trays which we handed out.

Around 8:30 we were all back and enjoyed a light supper and hot drinks. After some chatting as young folks do, we headed home. If it would have been a Friday night we likely would have played games a while. Many other youth groups, besides family and church groups, go caroling too.

Read the rest of Rebecca’s list here. Merry Christmas to you!

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    10 Comments

    1. Debbie H

      Amish Christmas

      AS always Amish ways of celebrating are simple, family oriented and peaceful. No running around for last minute gifts, no stressing over whose party to attend, no exhaustion from all the stress. Most important of all is that the focus is where it is suppose to be, the gift of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. Just joy and peace all around. Sigh. Wish I had been raised Amish sometimes.

      Merry Christmas Erik

      1. Well said Debbie. I like the Christmas observance you describe.

    2. Ruth Streicher & Others re Catholics and Christmas

      Ruth Streicher & Others:
      Please see my comments regarding Catholics and Christmas,
      under “Catholic Christmas” posted on December 21, 2017.
      Br. Jeremy

      1. Not graven images

        Please note my comments under “Catholic Christmas” and the use
        of statues, not being idolatrous graven images, to recall the
        birth of Jesus. Brother Jeremy

        1. Thanks for your comments, Brother Jeremy. Since the comment you are referring to appears on another post, I’ll share the link here – I believe this is the one you meant: https://amishamerica.com/5-ways-the-amish-celebrate-christmas/comment-page-1/#comment-177297

    3. Pleased to see some common sense neighborly talk on cards.
      Neighbors should be like extended family to a certain degree.
      Don’t get brainwashed by the media.

    4. Jb

      Graven images

      I think the graven images commandment is not understood or observed too much these days, but our culture idolizes famous people in a sense more than various “gods”. Certainly not only catholics have nativity scenes at Christmas! As a child I loved nativity scenes and especially Joseph helped represent the sanctity of fatherhood in a family unit. So much divorce has happened since that time and the precious feeling of the nativity has been lost in a sense. The graven image commandment is something i don’t understand so much. I think in pagan religions different gods were idolized more or perhaps take hinduism as an example in the same sense. Jesus was the messiah and in the bible it says he was the Lord among us. Christian values are good but is Jesus really God and was he meant to be worshipped as God? I don’t know.

    5. AJ

      Amish celebrate Christmas the way it was celebrated in most of the western world prior to commercialization of the Holiday. Santa, the reindeer, snowmen, etc, as we known them today were born in the 1800-1900s.

      1. Santa was not a jolly fat guy in a red suit until the mid-1800s. Nowadays he is almost portrayed as a cartoon character (i.e. with no connection to religion).

      2. People placed candles in their windows prior to the invention of lighting. That is where the the whole lighting came from. Back then it was a simply candle. Now people place multi-colored lights, strobe lights, cutouts, and all other kinds of decorations. Almost none of it having to do with Jesus.

      The candle represented his birth (the birth of Christ), which is why people today also light candles on their birth cakes.

    6. AJ

      A question about the languages the Amish speak today.

      Is it true that there are three different German dialects the Amish speak? Are there more?

      The vast majority of American Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch. About 14,000 (growing because of higher Swiss birth rates) speak a dialect of Swiss German. What about the Alsatian German, which according to Swissinfo, is spoken by around 4,000 Amish people? Where are those Amish located?

      What about the Canadian Amish, which is one of the oldest Amish communities in North America that had no real influence from PA Amish migrants and who have unique last names, does anyone know if they also speak PA German or a different dialect?

    7. Melanie

      Wonderful People

      My family has been going to Pennsylvania for oh,20 years or so and we just love it.The people are quite friendly and as we’ve gotten oldermy husband and I have talked of moving there.Finger’s crossed.-)