The Amish & Thanksgiving

Like other Americans, Amish celebrate Thanksgiving each year on the fourth Thursday in November. It’s one of many holidays and days of observance in the Amish calendar. Read on for more on how the Amish observe this special day.

Jump to:
Amish Holidays
Day of rest
Amish businesses close (mostly)
Amish Family Gatherings
Amish Thanksgiving Weddings
Amish Thanksgiving Dinner
Amish School Thanksgiving Programs
Amish Thanksgiving Benefit Dinners
Giving Thanks to God

Thanksgiving, one of many Amish holidays

The Amish celebrate Thanksgiving similarly to how other Americans celebrate the holiday. We typically associate the Amish with religious holidays like Christmas or Easter, but they also do observe some non-religious holidays. One example is Valentine’s Day. Amish will have Valentine’s suppers. Children may exchange Valentine cards. The youth may exchange candy boxes.

Thanksgiving is another non-religious holiday Amish eagerly celebrate. Though it may technically be a non-church holiday, the emphasis on offering thanks to God while spending time with family aligns well with Amish culture and values, one reason it is a popular, widely-observed holiday in Amish communities.

Day of Rest & Family

When it comes to the Amish, communities are different, so practices can vary in different places. But generally, Thanksgiving is a day of rest. Most businesses are going to be closed, though that can vary. Families will get together for a big meal, spending a day together visiting.

Amish businesses close on Thanksgiving

Amish-run businesses are going to be closed generally on Thanksgiving Day in Amish communities. However, that may vary. For instance, in the Harmony, Minnesota community (a very plain Swartzentruber Amish settlement), businesses would only be closed on Thanksgiving morning.

Amish businesses generally close on Thanksgiving, though this can vary by community. Photo: Don Burke

One of our contributors, Don Burke, found that when he visited the community at Clark, Missouri, that businesses were closed there. You can see some photos Don took around the settlement that day here.

Don also noticed that some of the Amish were holding church that day, which is something that you will see in some places on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Family Gatherings

Generally, the Amish celebrate similarly to non-Amish people when it comes to food and visiting. Different families may take turns hosting the meal. You may have your brother’s family over one year, and you may go to your sister’s home the next year.

Amish families gather on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Don Burke

With the Amish typically having large families, it can be difficult to get the entire extended family of many siblings along with their own children together in one place. It’s also the case that some Amish families will do multiple meals over the Thanksgiving period.

Thanksgiving Weddings

You may find that weddings are taking place on Thanksgiving Day in some communities, because the autumn season is the traditional wedding season. However, in some communities that’s changed, and weddings are held more or less year round.

That said, in a community like Lancaster County, where autumn weddings are still quite common, a Thanksgiving wedding is certainly possible – especially considering that Amish typically hold their weddings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Amish Thanksgiving Food

What is Amish Thanksgiving dinner like? Let’s take a look at two examples.

First, Gloria Yoder, who writes the Amish Cook column, wrote that, “For us, Christmas meals and Thanksgiving feasts are a lot alike, with mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, stuffing (at least when my grandma planned it) a veggie salad, sometimes a fruit salad and pies or another sweet treat.”

Turkey is a standard part of Thanksgiving dinner in Amish homes as well

She adds that as far as activities, “Usually, we gather with family or friends and spend the day together. When I was a young girl, I used to always look forward to playing all sorts of board games in the afternoon.”

Games and singing

Board games are popular for Amish family get-togethers. Two examples would be Settlers of Catan, a game that’s quite popular, at least in the Lancaster County community. Another is a game called Farmopoly with Amish friends, a farm version of Monopoly. You’ll also have a lot of singing when families get together. Amish sing quite beautifully. Thanksgiving is an occasion when they’ll do that.

Amish Thanksgiving Dinner

Back to food. A second example of Thanksgiving Dinner comes from Lovina Eicher, who writes the column “Lovina’s Amish Kitchen”. She describes her sisters family coming to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Lovina writes that “I put the turkeys in about 6 AM, and they were ready by a little after 11 AM. We sat down for the meal at noon. We added an eight foot table to our normal 10 foot kitchen table and put out 19 place settings.”

As far as the food, Lovina says, “I prepared an 18-pound turkey and a 21-pound turkey. We had a lot left over. On the menu, besides turkey, was mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (which I stuffed in both turkeys), mixed vegetables, corn, overnight salad, express salad, dill pickles, hot peppers, sliced cheese, homemade bread, butter, strawberry jam, a cheeseball and crackers, veggies and dip, pumpkin roll, angel food cake, homemade Reese’s bars, ice cream, and pumpkin, pecan, and peanut butter pies.”

An Amish couple out with the buggy on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Don Burke

Lovina notes that her sisters brought food as well, so there was more than enough at this feast. So as you see by that menu, there are a lot of things that non-Amish people would recognize – along with a few more obscure dishes (eg, overnight salad). But, as is typical for the Amish at get-togethers like this, there is a lot of food to be eaten.

Other Amish Thanksgiving Events

Besides family gatherings, you may see some other events tied to Thanksgiving in Amish communities.

Amish school Thanksgiving program

One example would be that Amish schools will often do special holiday programs. In these programs, the children put on skits, do some singing, and recite poems. Parents are invited to join. Typically, you see this at Christmas, but some schools may do a Thanksgiving program.

In one example (below), you can see and hear Amish children singing at a Thanksgiving program in an Ohio school. They’re singing a song called “And Father, We Thank You”, which was written by a local Amishman.

Amish Thanksgiving Benefit Dinners

Another example: some communities might do a benefit event open to the public, specifically a Thanksgiving dinner that would be intended to generate funds benefiting the local Amish schools.

To take one example, the community in Bowling Green, Missouri did such a dinner to benefit their local schools. It was done on a donation basis. At such dinners, the Amish prepare food and the public can come and enjoy a meal, leaving a donation to help the schools. It’s a nice example of Amish and non-Amish coming together for an event that has a practical, positive purpose.

Another example comes from Gloria Yoder. She writes about a “widow’s dinner” held in her community. Women who have been widowed in the community are invited to come for a special Thanksgiving supper. This is an example of outreach to those who might not be as fortunate at this special holiday time.

Emphasis on giving thanks to God

Ultimately, for the Amish, the emphasis of this day is on being thankful. To take one example: I happened to be in the Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio, at around Thanksgiving time several years ago. An Amish friend of mine named Myron shared a poem with me called “I Am Thankful, A Poem of Thanksgiving“.

Interestingly, it’s not a very “Amish-sounding” poem in some of its themes. I don’t believe it’s written by an Amish person. But at the same time, it gives a little life perspective which Amish people can appreciate. I ended up sharing this poem with some Amish friends in that community after I got it from Myron, and they seemed to appreciate it as well.

Finally, to demonstrate this emphasis on thankfulness: another quote from Lovina Eicher of the Amish Kitchen column.

Lovina writes that “Thanksgiving is a day to remember the many blessings we have, a time to sing praises unto the Lord, thanking Him for all He has done, a day to spend with family and friends, making new memories, a day to remember how blessed we are to have another bountiful harvest to put up for the long, cold winter. Do we appreciate our blessings enough? How often we take for granted that we have plenty of food in a warm place to stay. A holiday such as Thanksgiving Day is a nice time to reflect on all of our blessings, but let us also remember to thank God daily.”

Amish Thanksgiving

So as you see, “Amish Thanksgiving” is quite similar in many ways to how non-Amish celebrate Thanksgiving.

You won’t have the hours spent watching Thanksgiving Day football games, or the heavy emphasis on going shopping the next day on Black Friday. But like non-Amish, Amish people celebrate Thanksgiving by spending time with family, eating a good meal, relaxing with loved ones, and remembering their blessings.

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    1. Leana

      Happy Thanksgiving!

      That video is so endearing! I love it all, they are doing it right! That is actually what we do too. I don’t watch sports anyway and don’t do all the materialism of Christmas shopping, black Friday or ever. That is because we do Christmas in the same way, the emphasis is on the Lord, celebrating what He did or gave or blessings, and spent with family and of course feasting and church. If we give any gifts it is only to the less fortunate, charity programs that collect toys and such. We don’t have cable TV and don’t watch any television and the only news I get is on the internet and we like it that way. I think it is wonderful that they have a widow’s dinner. I was just thinking that this would be a good ministry for people who are all alone and have no one; to have a Thanksgiving and a Christmas dinner and day of socializing with talking and games and invite all those people, but on the very day. I haven’t seen that around but I know sometimes families will invite others who are alone or there are only a few people. It takes someone else who is alone to host it on that day and organize it and invite the others. Those with families are too busy with that to do this and can only invite a few maybe. Well anyway just sharing my thoughts here, have a great time tomorrow!

    2. Phillip

      More alike than we know

      Not being Amish, and looking in from a different position, I see that we are more alike than we have thought.
      I thank God for these wonderful similarities! Please and prosperity be unto you!

    3. Frank Comstock

      Amish Thanksgiving

      Thanks, Eric, for this story and video. Very informative. I used to live near the Amish in Maryland, but never really got to know them beyond passing a few words at markets.

    4. Mavis

      Overnight Salad

      Hi, Erik!
      I recently subscribed to Amish America and very much enjoy it.
      I live close to Holmes County, Ohio, and never tire of shopping and eating out there.
      When you were talking about the foods that the Amish eat for the holidays, you mentioned Overnight Salad.
      Many people call it Seven Layer Salad, and it’s popular in the East and Midwest. I don’t know about other parts of the country.
      It’s layers of lettuce and whatever else strikes your fancy, notably peas, bacon, shredded cheese, tomatoes, etc., and then covered overnight with a mayo dressing that, to me, is unimaginative and yucky.
      Each to his own. My point is that this salad isn’t just an Amish dish that’s unknown to others. It’s quite popular in many areas.
      Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas!