One of the many blessings of writing Amish novels is that each time I dive into the research, I learn another aspect to their faith and culture that I was unaware of. Research for me begins by having long conversations with Old Order Amish friends. After fifteen years of fascinating question-and-answer times, I still discover at least one completely new aspect of their life every time.
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, I’m sure no one would be surprised to hear that the Amish use almost no decorations. Most Amish consider such “trappings” a distraction from the story of Christ’s birth. And based on the second commandment, which tells us not to make any graven image, most don’t have nativity scenes or angel figurines, and there’s definitely no trace of Santa.
About eight years ago, I learned that although the Amish don’t have Christmas trees in their homes, most are comfortable putting candles surrounded by homemade wreaths on surfaces throughout the house.
A few years back I visited my Amish friend Miriam in November. It was cold outside, so she and I sipped hot drinks while chatting in front of a warm fire. When a friend of hers stopped by, the three of us sipped our drinks and talked about the upcoming holidays. The two Amish women began discussing their plans to go Christmas caroling. The visiting friend shared that her husband had ideas on which songs to sing, the time to begin, and whose wagon and horses to use.
“Miriam?” I leaned in. “You go Christmas caroling?”
She seemed taken aback at my sense of wonder. “Definitely,” she said. “Sometimes we do it as a gift to others, but this time it’s just for fun. So we will choose places where the listeners’ excitement, and our shared laughter after we’ve finished singing, should be abundant.”
“What do you sing?”
“The old-fashioned songs, like ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,’ ‘Away in a Manger,’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’ We don’t sing about Christmas trees or Santa, but any song about the birth of Christ is cherished.”
As she explained more, I learned that Christmas caroling is a church-sponsored event for them. Some of the men hitch two horses to a wagon, and the carolers hop on board. They’ll stop by the homes of people they know—mostly Amish, but some English. Caroling is a social event that the Amish look forward to and treasure.
The caroling event that Miriam and her friend were discussing was being planned for married couples only. But different groups—singles and families—also participate in caroling throughout the season.
I love understanding more and more about the Amish culture and faith. It’s an honor to weave that understanding into each of my novels, remembering to keep my word to my Old Order Amish friends that I would never put them on a pedestal, and that I would strive to share the difficult and sometimes harsh realities of living Amish, as well as their faithful hearts and their love of God’s Word, family, and friends.
Just last week an Amish friend shared one of their traditions that I would have never imagined was a part of the Amish way. But I’ll share that another time …
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA best-selling author of fifteen works of fiction and one of nonfiction. She and her Old Order Amish friend, Miriam Flaud, coauthored the nonfiction, Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women. Cindy’s been featured on ABC Nightline and the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and has worked with National Geographic on a documentary concerning Amish life. In June of 2013, the Wall Street Journal listed Cindy as one of the top three Amish authors. Her latest release is Hope Crossing.
Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in their now empty nest.
Purchase Cindy’s books here.
Sign up here to be the first to get exclusive news delivered to your inbox monthly. New books, cover reveals, coupon codes, first-look excerpts and much more.