Often when we think of Amish life we think of horses, buggies, jam, soap, one room school houses, wood stoves, and the lack of electricity. Some of us wish we could run away from our hectic lives for a day or so and live the simple life, and some of us say, “no way, I need my car and electricity.” But what if we could adopt some of their ways for a calmer and more peaceful life? Christmas is one of the most hectic times of the year, but it shouldn’t be. As Catholics, we want to celebrate the birth of Jesus just like it was when he was first born. Matthew 2:10 tells us, “When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with Great Joy.” We want to feel that same joy of the first Christmas. But over the years, we have gotten carried away trying to find joy in other ways. We feel the need to have extravagant decorations. Our Christmas trees, and lighting have become over the top. Most families don’t send just a regular Christmas card anymore, most are adorned with photos displaying their beautiful families. The gifts per child can sometimes cost in the thousands of dollars, and now we have the ever so popular “Elf on the Shelf” tradition.
We must slow down and ask ourselves if this is glorifying the birth of Jesus? Traditions are important and even I have gotten caught up with the elf on the shelf hype, but with the hectic stress that the holiday brings, we have to wonder if there are some traditions we can let go of and some we can adopt that are more Christ-centered, such as an Advent wreath. This can be a beautiful decoration, plus it helps us get excited within the four weeks leading up to Christ’s birth. There are scriptures and readings that can be read every Sunday as you light a candle on the wreath.
Unlike other Christians, the Amish only decorate with pine, candles, and poinsettias. They do send and receive Christmas cards but they are usually homemade. The Amish do not put up a Christmas tree or have Santa come visit the kids. Amish schoolchildren have a Christmas program at their one room schoolhouse. The program always emphasizes the true Christmas story. Because Amish have such large families they have Christmas Day, and Second Christmas (held the day after Christmas). Both are a day to rest and to visit with their extended families. The Amish go caroling and give practical or handmade gifts to each other, although you will not find any Nativity scenes or angel figurines in their community. As a Catholic, I have a hard time imagining Christmas without seeing a nativity scene, but I do think I could learn to focus more on the birth of Jesus, than on my light display or my Christmas tree. I could make a habit of helping the “least of these” instead of spending all my time shopping. And I could make all my décor centered around Jesus instead of Santa, so my child knows the true meaning of the season.
I think Amish have a real grasp on what Christmas is all about but so do Catholics. We just need to slow down, throw out some of the silly traditions, renew Advent traditions, and take advantage of some of the things the Church offers us at Christmas time. Advent is a time to anticipate the coming of Jesus, just like the world waited in anticipation for a savior thousands of years before his actual coming. We prepare for the coming of the messiah and celebrate long past Christmas day, until Epiphany also known as Three King’s Day. This is a feast day that ends the twelve days of Christmas.
Take this Christmas season to truly prepare for the birth of Jesus. Celebrate Advent every Sunday and go to Midnight Mass with joy in your heart and reflecting on the meaning of his coming. Adopt the Amish gift giving idea of practicality by buying useful or homemade gifts. These gifts tend to mean more in the long run. God wants peace on Earth so take this time to reconcile with the people you have offended. And lastly but most importantly focus on Christ as a family, in your home and in your church.