Preserving a Legacy of Family, Faith, and Food – November 1 – December 31
Written by Suzanne Woods Fisher
“The dearest things of life are mostly near at hand.” – Amish Proverb
On a farm, Christmas morning is like any other day. The cows must be milked. The animals must be fed and tended to. But when the chores are finally done, Christmas begins like in any other home. On the Stoltzfus farm, the five children gather in the kitchen, eager to see what their parents had prepared while they were doing their chores in the barn. These children aren’t looking for a decorated Christmas tree because that’s not what the Amish do. But in front of each child’s place at the table rests a small pile of presents, covered with a pretty dish towel. This is how Amish families exchange gifts: in the spirit of the three wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child.
The gifts aren’t ready for opening, not yet. First, the family sits down to a special breakfast tradition: sizzling bacon, savory egg casserole, hot muffins, and cold cereal.
After breakfast, sixteen-year-old Lydia and her two younger sisters help their mother with the dishes. “And then we sit at the kitchen table while my grandfather pulls out his well-worn Bible and reads the Christmas story to us,” Lydia said. “He does it every Christmas morning. It’s the only day of the year that he would read to us, so we all sit quietly and listen carefully.”
Finally, Lydia’s parents say it’s time to open the gifts. One Christmas in particular stands out for Lydia. “We pulled off the dish towel to find lots of homemade gifts! Some cookies, candy, and nuts, usually a new dress for me and my sisters that my mother had sewn. Each of my brothers opened a new shirt. And my oldest brother, Elam, was given a pocketknife—something he had been hoping for. My sister and I were given some stationery for our letter writing. And books! We all love to read and share our books with each other.”
After the children had opened their gifts, read a chapter or two of their new books, and polished off the Christmas cookies, Lydia’s father stood and stretched his back. “It’s getting a little cold in here, don’t you think?” he said. “Elam, why don’t you add some wood to the fire?”
Elam went over to the woodbin, opened it up, and let out a loud whoop! There were five pairs of used ice skates, one for each child. “They didn’t all fit perfectly,” Lydia said, “so Mom found us plenty of extra socks.”
That afternoon, the family bundled up and went to Blackbird Pond. “Daddy taught us how to skate,” Lydia said. “Lots of other families were there, too, so we had a skating party. We made snow cream and stayed until the sun started to set and we were too cold to continue. I’ll never forget that afternoon.”
Too soon, it was time for chores. Even on Christmas evening, the cows must be milked, the animals need to be fed. “As I went to bed that night,” Lydia said, “listening to the hum of my parents’ voices downstairs, I thought about the happy day we had together. I think that might have been the best Christmas we ever had.”
Road Map: Getting There from Here
What appeals to you about the Stoltzfus family’s Christmas? Write down some hopes you have for your own Christmas celebration this year.
One mother said that she and her husband give their children three gifts: one that the child has hoped for, one to share with siblings, and one for fostering spiritual development, like a book or a journal. If you could choose only three gifts for your children, using that formula, what would they be?
The Amish have a saying: “The best things in life are not things.” They know that happiness never comes from more stuff in our homes but from more life in our hearts (John 10:10). Does it ever seem as if Christmas is out of control? If so, what is controlling it? Others’ expectations? A culture of unrelenting consumerism? Or you?
First things first in the Stoltzfus family: gifts are opened only after a traditional breakfast and a reading of the nativity story in the Bible. What could you change in your celebration schedule to reflect a focus on the true meaning of Christmas?:— Emmanuel, Christ is with us!?
(This story was originally published in Amish Values for Your Family (2011). It is reprinted with permission from Revell Books.)
[tooltip text=”TOOLTIP TEXT”]Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. She hosts a weekly radio show and has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Amish proverb. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Suzanne on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.[/tooltip]