How do Amish celebrate Christmas?

The Amish do celebrate Christmas – but not in all the same ways that non-Amish do. December 25th and the days leading up to it are important ones in Amish communities. In fact, some Amish people even celebrate Christmas twice! (more on that below).

In this article we’ll take a look at how Amish Christmas is similar – and different to – the Christmas celebrations and observances of non-Amish.

Do Amish give gifts and have Christmas dinner? Do they put up Christmas trees and lights? What about Santa Claus? Read on or jump to a section to learn more.

Jump to:
How do Amish celebrate Christmas?
Amish Christmas traditions
Amish and Christmas decorations
Amish and Santa Claus?
Amish Christmas Dinner
Do Amish give Christmas gifts?
Old Christmas: January 6th
Other Amish holidays

How do Amish celebrate Christmas?

As a Christian community, Christmas as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most important holidays in the Amish calendar. Amish do observe Christmas in a religious sense. But they also take part in many of the same secular holiday traditions that non-Amish people do.

Amish buggy traveling on a snowy road
Yes, Amish people celebrate Christmas. Image: Don Shenk

Let’s have a look at some of those traditions now.

Amish Christmas Traditions

Some of the most common Christmas-season Amish holiday traditions include:

Christmas caroling

One old-fashioned tradition Amish still follow (once common with non-Amish but no longer) is that of singing Christmas carols. An extended family may walk from home-to-home, stopping in at fellow church members’ homes. When I went along with Amish friends during a recent Christmas season, we sang several songs at each home, including both secular and more religious songs, such as “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. We stopped at both Amish and non-Amish neighbors’ homes.

Silent Night sheet music

Children’s school program

The children’s Christmas program is a highlight of the year, held in many if not most Amish communities. Each Amish school will put on a program consisting of songs and skits revolving around the Christmas season. Children may re-enact the Nativity, playing the parts of Mary and Joseph and the Three Wise Men. Parents attend the program, and there will be a gift exchange, candy, and gifts for the teachers. It is a special day which the children get excited for each year.

Brown-topped Amish buggies parked outside an Amish school on a snowy backdrop
Buggies gathered outside a school for an Amish children’s Christmas program. New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Image: Rick

Christmas cards

The tradition of exchanging Christmas cards is alive and well among the Amish. This is common in both progressive and conservative Amish communities Some Christmas cards may be store-bought, others handmade. You can see examples of some Amish Christmas cards here. Cards will typically include Bible verses or reminders of the religious basis for the Christmas season. Blue handmade Amish Christmas card with candle

Church service

Like non-Amish Christians, Amish do attend church during the Christmas season. But due to the church schedule of the Amish (held once every two weeks), they won’t necessarily attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Amish in some communities do have a tradition of holding church service.

Second Christmas

Amish in some communities will also observe “second Christmas”, which is the day following Christmas (December 26th). This would also be a day of no work, rest, and visiting friends and relatives. Not to be confused with “Old Christmas” (more on that tradition below).

Amish people exchange gifts, though not to the same lavish degree as is nowadays typical among many Americans. We’ll have a closer look at Amish gift-giving in a minute. For more on this topic from an Amish church member, you can also check our article on how Amish celebrate Christmas.

Amish and Christmas decorations

The ways Amish decorate for Christmas can vary. Different Amish groups do things differently.

Do Amish have Christmas trees?

Amish as a rule do not put up Christmas trees. However, they may decorate their doors with Christmas wreaths. Some lay out decorative Christmas tree cuttings on a kitchen table, or even display strings of battery-powered lights, in more progressive Amish homes. Christmas trees are associated with material representations of Christmas, which is one reason why Amish reject them. Watercolor painting of a simple Christmas tree

Other Christmas decor

Amish people will also decorate their homes with seasonal flowers. Poinsettias are particularly popular. Another common tradition is to string Christmas cards up on a line in the home. Amish families may also stick them up on a pantry door or on the wall as a nice reminder of holiday wishes from family and friends. Some Amish families may display wreaths on their front doors, candles, or even snowman figures and stockings, as you can see in the photo below from an Amish home in Indiana.

Wooden snowman, stocking and other Christmas decor on an Amish porch
Christmas-theme decor on an Amish home’s porch in the Shipshewana, Indiana are. Image: Jim Halverson

Amish and Santa Claus?

You might be wondering about the Amish and Santa Claus. In short, Santa is not a thing with the Amish. They do not teach their small children the Santa Claus story. Why not? Simply put, as a grounded, Christian people, the Amish generally do not encourage belief in supernatural or imaginary ideas like Santa or the Tooth Fairy. They give gifts to their children but they are given directly from parents, not through the intermediary of Santa.

Amish Christmas Dinner

You’re probably not surprised to learn that Amish put on hearty Christmas dinners. These are eaten with family, friends, and even co-workers and employees.

Types of food

What foods do Amish eat for Christmas dinner? Generally, these are similar to the traditional foods eaten by non-Amish Americans. They will often include turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, pot roast, cranberry, cooked vegetables like green beans, casserole, as well as some Pennsylvania Dutch staples like butter noodles and sauerkraut. Desserts of course are an important part of Amish meals, and Christmas dinner is no different. Pies, Christmas cookies, cake, and ice cream are all favorites.

Homemade Christmas cookies in snowman and tree shapes
Even though Amish don’t put up Christmas trees, they make cookies that look like them

More than one dinner

If you’re Amish, you can expect to be a part of more than one Christmas dinner. Why? Well the reason is obvious when you think about Amish families. They’re big! You might have dinner with your own nuclear family, and on another day attend a Christmas dinner at a sibling’s home, or a married child’s home.

Another Christmas dinner event is the employee dinner. Amish owners of companies such as construction firms invite their employees over for a Christmas feast. The company owner’s family and other volunteers will prepare and serve the food, act as waiters and clean up. With all the opportunities for Christmas dinner get togethers, you may end up eating at a half-dozen or more such dinners over the Christmas season!

Do Amish exchange Christmas gifts?

Like other Americans, the Amish do exchange Christmas gifts. They tend to fall in one of a few categories.

Practical gifts

These types of gifts include items that might be useful for a teenage son or a daughter in the workplace (tools for a son on a carpentry crew, for example). They also might be something for the child’s hobbies, such as hunting equipment or sewing supplies.

Homemade gifts

Since Amish have large families, they may also rely to some degree on giving homemade gifts. This is a more economical way of gift-giving which also demonstrates love and care. For example, one Amish friend made clothing racks for his sons out of some wood he already had available.

On the whole, Amish Christmas gifts tend to be useful items – often necessities like a new pair of mud boots or a much-desired kitchen item. Smaller children will get toys. They may receive Bible story books or books on nature or other topics of interest. Amish Christmas gift-giving reflects their overall practical nature. New shoes or clothing might not seem like the most exciting Christmas present, but Amish appreciate these gifts.

“Fun” gifts

That said, Amish may also give each other fun gifts or “gag” gifts. For example on a recent Christmas, one Amish father and husband received a wall sign that read “An Old Bear lives here with his Sweet Honey”. Not everything has to be strictly practical, and Amish enjoy giving gifts in the “fun” category as well.

Wall sign reading "An Old Bear lives here with his sweet Honey"
An Amishman happily displays his Christmas gift

The Amish & Old Christmas: January 6th

Some Amish celebrate a second Christmas – that of “Old Christmas”.  What is the Amish tradition of Old Christmas? Where does it come from, and what do the Amish do on this day?

Origin of Old Christmas

Old Christmas stems from a decision by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to remove roughly 10 days from the Julian Calendar. This moved Christmas from January 6th to December 25th in the Gregorian Calendar. The Amish have carried a number of Old World traditions with them. And for some Amish (though not all), Old Christmas is still observed. And Old Christmas is not a strictly Amish tradition. Other cultures and communities observe it, including Scot-Irish communities of Appalachia, as well as Christians in Ireland.

Snowman figure with January 6 calendar date

It should be noted that January 6th is also the day of the Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the Magi (aka Three Kings or Three Wise Men) to the baby Jesus, which is not the same thing – though they fall on the same day.

Amish traditions on Old Christmas

For those Amish who observe Old Christmas, the day of January 6th is spent as a day off work. Like with many other Amish holidays, the day may be spent visiting family and friends. It is a day of rest. Young people and children may take off to play ice hockey at a local frozen pond. Businesses will be closed just as they are on Sundays or other holidays.

Two young Amish women building a snowman on an overcast winter day
Young Amish women build a snowman in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Image: Don Shenk

Not all Amish celebrate Old Christmas, however. Amish in Lancaster County, PA are among those who do not, while Amish in Holmes County, Ohio do observe the holiday.

Other Amish holidays

Besides Christmas, Amish celebrate many other holidays. Some of these are well-known for all Americans. Others are more obscure or specific to the Amish.

Easter & other Christian Holidays

Amish celebrate other holidays like Easter and other well-known Christian holidays, like Good Friday. Amish Easter traditions are similar in some ways to those of non-Amish people, including egg-dyeing for example. Amish church holidays often mean fasting for at least part of the day.

Secular holidays

What about the Amish and secular holidays like Independence Day, Labor Day or Memorial Day? This can vary by community, but especially in more progressive areas, Amish will participate to various degrees in these holidays. For example, Amish families will go to watch fireworks displays on July 4th in some places. They may still work on those days, especially if they work for an Amish employer (in turn, they will get days off for more specific Amish church holidays). Amish who own or are involved in businesses dealing with the non-Amish public may need to adapt their schedules accordingly.

New Year’s Day is also a holiday for Amish, which they spend visiting, playing games, and having a special brunch or other meal.

Lesser-known Amish holidays

Finally, there are a group of more obscure holidays celebrated by Amish people. These are lesser-known among the public. Some may be specific mainly to the Amish, like St. Michael’s Day, or church fast day, which happens during the twice-yearly Communion period. Others such as Ascension Day may be observed in some Christian denominations, though not among the general public. Read more on these lesser-known Amish holidays.

Christmas is an important holiday for Amish

Christmas is a special time of year for the Amish just like it is for non-Amish people. Amish make efforts to remember the religious reasons behind Christmas. This is reflected in their church services, song, school programs, Christmas cards, and in other ways. They appreciate the family time together, and material and secular aspects of the season (like gift-giving and Christmas decor), but try to keep their focus on the birth of Jesus Christ as the reason for the Christmas holiday.

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