Christmas is one of many holidays observed by Amish, and with an expected emphasis on family rather than Santa. Amish-raised scholar John Hostetler shares in Amish Society that some Amish children may be “exposed to such customs [ie, Santa and the Christmas tree] if they attend public school, and some Amish parents come to the annual parochial school Christmas program. Some Amish have adopted the practice of drawing names among themselves for buying presents.”
Hostetler, who grew up in Iowa and Pennsylvania, explains that “on Christmas Eve in my home, each child set a dish at his place at the table. Our parents filled the dishes with many kinds of candy and nuts after we were asleep.”
Amish do give gifts at Christmas, and Hostetler notes that “children who want a specific toy usually get it, but toys are generally simple and inexpensive.” While selling books in Amish communities, I can remember a number of instances when sets were tucked away by forward-looking parents as a Christmas surprise for the children.
Hostetler goes on to explain that “married couples may buy surprises for each other, usually something they need, such as a new bed or a chair. Girls may receive decorative dishes from their parents. Gifts are frequently left on display in the sitting room until after New Year’s Day.”
On the matter of giving gifts, I often get questions on what types of gift are suitable, with the giver ofter concerned about potentially offending the receiver by a poorly-chosen gift.
As a rule, and as Hostetler’s description above indicates, gifts that have some function will likely be better-received by Amish than those that don’t. Simple toys for children are generally fine as well, and Amish-run dry goods shops often have an array of games and other basic toys for children.
There is as usual variety among the Amish. My mother usually likes to send baked goods along with me when I travel to visit friends in Pennsylvania (baked goods and most consumables for that matter, will never lead you astray). I know she has given small games and if I recall even a book or two for the younger children.
Once she wished to send a bottle of North Carolina wine along, which I vetoed as I could not recall whether wine was kosher in the family or not. As it turned out, it probably would have been a safe bet, as she later helpfully reminded me that we had even been offered some homemade wine by the family head himself on one visit. (Click here for a previous post on the Amish and alcohol).
And, best wishes to everyone this Christmas! I’ll be spending mine, Polish-style, at Grandma’s place as usual.