Did you know that Amish celebrate three separate Christmases? By this I mean three separate days called by some variation of the name “Christmas”. Two of them occur in December, and one in January.
Christmas (December 25)
First of course, there is the Christmas we all know, on December 25th. This is the official Christmas, the traditional commemoration of Jesus’ birth, and is celebrated in ways similar to those of non-Amish people – food, family, and visiting.
Experiences may vary, but church service (normally held on Sunday, once every two weeks) is typically not held on that day, though the birth of Christ will be covered in the worship gatherings held around this time. In the lead-up to Christmas, there are other Christmas events as well.
Parents and siblings attend Amish children’s school programs, a mix of songs, poems, and skits. I had a chance to visit one this year in Lancaster County, which lasted close to two hours. If you listen to the video below, the final minute contains audio from an Amish children’s Christmas program held earlier this week.
Children (and adults) may also go caroling. Yesterday, schoolchildren from two area schools were caroling in the neighborhood. A father of one of the scholars hauled the children around in a wagon drawn by two Belgian horses. Last year I went along with Amish friends who sang carols at several neighbors’ homes. Besides these, there are other ways Amish celebrate Christmas, detailed here.
Second Christmas (December 26)
The other two Christmases result from customs and events from long ago. First of all, Second Christmas (December 26) is celebrated by some Amish. This holiday has roots in observances in continental Europe. In the UK, Second Christmas is known as Boxing Day, while in other European countries such as Germany or Poland, it is St. Stephen’s Day.
This custom has been upheld by some Amish, but not all are aware of its roots. As one Amish woman observed, “I don’t know why it’s Second Christmas or where it started. But it’s so that you have another day to get together with your in-laws family…often we’re with friends at some point on that day too.”
Second Christmas is an opportunity to visit with in-laws, or with friend groups outside of your immediate family. For example, this year a friend of mine is planning to have his old youth group buddies over to his home on Second Christmas.
Old Christmas (January 6)
Finally, there is Old Christmas. That comes up on January 6. This also has roots in long-ago Europe. Specifically, the key event here is when Pope Gregory made a change to the calendar to account for a flaw in the Julian calendar:
The Gregorian calendar was decreed in 1582 by the papal bull Inter gravissimas by Pope Gregory XIII, to correct an error in the Julian calendar that was causing erroneous calculation of the date of Easter. The Julian calendar had been based upon a year lasting 365.25 days, but this was slightly too long; in reality, it is about 365.2422 days,[b] and so over the centuries, the calendar had drifted increasingly out of alignment with the Earth’s orbit.
The decree meant that countries adopting the calendar would remove a certain number of days from the calendar (around 10-13 days, depending when in history a given country adopted the change). Some Amish still keep observance of Old Christmas, which happens to fall on the same day as the Epiphany. It involves morning fasting, family and visiting.
It’s important to note that not all Amish celebrate all of these days. Some may observe Second Christmas, but not Old Christmas (such is the case in Lancaster County). In Holmes County, the Amish do celebrate Old Christmas, however.
You can also check out the video I made on this below. The Amish children’s program segment starts at about the 4:40 mark. And a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you.