Monday, December 26, 2011

Amish Second Christmas and the Value of Friendships

Today, December 26th, is Amish Second Christmas. When I first heard of this extra day of celebrating, I thought it was a day to recoup from having so many guests on Christmas Day. I imagined the Amish taking a day to just sleep and relax. But the Amish live very intentionally, and this Second Christmas is spent on something Outsiders would find surprising: going out with their “Amish Gang”.
Yes, I used Amish and gang in the same sentence, which seems like an oxymoron.  We think of gangs in a negative way, but think back to when you were a kid and you hung around with a neighborhood gang. That’s exactly what the Amish encourage their youth to do…form lasting friendships. Since many go to the same one-room schoolhouse, they have friends since childhood. But during the teen years, Amish youth are encouraged to get together all the more. Rumspringa actually means “running around” and it’s a misconception that they through off their Amish ways during this time. On the contrary, they strengthen them in forming bonds that will last a life-time, called Buddy Gangs.
So, the day after Christmas Day, these long-time friends get together. It’s a day to celebrate their friendship. I find this so heartwarming in a culture where “time is money”. The Amish are saying “time is friendship”.  The Amish find instruction to intentionally nurture friendships from the Bible.  With such verses as:
 A man who has friends must himself be friendly. (Proverbs 18:24a NKJV)
 Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9 NKJV)
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17 NLT)
As I sit her, recouping from Christmas, I’m thinking how I can intentionally nurture friendships. The Amish always give me more to think about…

I wrote this little book to explain Amish customs around Christmas and share what I learned on toning down the Christmas chaos. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Having a Peace Filled Christmas "Amish" Style

Hi Friends,

My past two posts talk about my visit to Lydia, my Amish friend, which helped me change my perspective on Christmas. It really is all about getting together with loved ones and having fun. I shared how the Amish celebrate Christmas over several days, ending on January 6th, Old Christmas.

I'd have to say this has been the most stress free Christmas I've ever had. I've only made one cookie. Pizzelles. You're denying your Italian heritage if you don't make them ;) So, I made a batch and my daughter and I pressed them on her birthday, December 20th. We now plan to make this a birthday/Christmas tradition, something I always felt wrong about doing. Can't mix the two celebrations because Christin won't feel special. perfectionism is breaking. My birthday's on Old Christmas, January 6th, so the family's having one birthday party for us both over the next two weeks. No date yet. Doesn't matter because it's not about the perfect meal, setting etc. it's all about getting together and having fun.

I have to say that it was painful though when my husband said he wasn't making nutrolls until January 6th. He sent an email around work that the Amish celebrate Old Christmas and he was too busy to make his mouthwatering nutrolls. It was a tradition that he makes one for all his co-workers. I cringed when he told me. My mom taught him how to make this Croatian desert step-by-step and only he knows how to make them. I've never had a Christmas without nutrolls. I immediately thought of calling a bakery...CRACK! My perfectionism is falling to pieces. No nutrolls until January 6th?

So it's two days until Christmas and only pizzelles have been made, but I'm not stressed out. But as I reflect over the past two weeks, there's something I did that I've always wanted to do, but never did, because it would just kill my Christmas a Christmas novel! So, I read Christmas Mail-Order Brides, a wonderful collection of stories, all focusing on the real meaning of Christmas.

Is there something you secretly wish you had time to do, but your holiday schedule is dictating your every move? Think about it? Is that living a simple life? To be bullied by the "Tyranny of the Urgent"? I'm finding much more peace saying no to self-imposed or society-imposed rules. Yes, my visit to Lydia's and learning about how the Amish celebrate Christmas has been life perfectionism is breaking...for good!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Journey Toward a Peace Filled "Amish" Christmas

Hi friends,

My last post, Do the Amish Celebrate Christmas?, where I keep hearing from my Amish friend, Lydia, that they "just spend time together and have fun", will be helpful to read before you read this post.

I believe God is a hands-on teacher. Right after I wrote the last post, I went to my doctors for a lingering cold. He ends up putting me in the hospital for possible pneumonia for three days. My first reaction was...I'm not's only two weeks until perfect Christmas! Sorry, too much to do, and my husband and I are going to the Nutcracker ballet tomorrow. No!

Well, my husband took me to the hospital, saying to rest! I loaded my tote with my Thomas Kinkade Christmas cards and some knitting (not done making scarves for presents). Then I thought of what I just posted here...about what I learned from Lydia about Christmas, and to spend time together having fun.

So, I rested for three days, never wrote out one card, knit maybe 10 rows, and that's it. I came home to a house that doesn't have one decoration up, and it's only eleven days until Christmas. I can't run around decorating the house because I'm too tired on all the meds my doc put me on. But, I somehow feel like I'm being set free from perfectionism and it feels wonderful.

But I have to make pizzelles, an Italian cookie passed down through the generations. My sisters and daughters are talking about a "cookie frolic". How Amish is that? Combining work with fellowship?

As for not going to the romantic Christmas time with hubby...still working on that one. I collect nutcrackers and always say, "Christmas is the Nutcracker". Well, maybe some sacred cows have to be tipped over. Christmas is Jesus...all about Him coming to bring "Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward men".  With a shift of perspective, I'm starting to feel more peace.

Please feel free to leave comment about how you're simplifying your Christmas. We can all learn from each other!

Above is a picture taken in Riccia, Italy, where my grandparents grew up and many of my cousins still live. Outdoor live nativity sets are common. Somehow it gives me peace and makes remember the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Blessings to you!  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do the Amish celebrate Christmas?

Having just written the Christmas volumes of Amish Knitting Circle, I'm reflecting on all I’ve learned from my Amish friend about how they really celebrate Christmas. I don't think I'll be the same! I'll put up my tree and decorations, but something has really broken in me...the need to be perfect on Christmas.
What do I mean by that? Well, I need to get those perfect gifts so people will feel loved, right? I need to get that perfect Christmas sweater from Christopher & Banks!  I need to make my perfect cookies in my perfectly clean house, right? And of all things, I need to have all my kids with spouses come to my perfect orb for half the day or they won't have a holly, jolly Christmas, right?
When I sat with pen in hand, ready to take down notes as Lydia explained to me how she celebrates Christmas, she just kept repeating herself no matter how I asked the question. "We just spend time together and have fun." No candles in the window? No greenery? Any special games? "We just spend time together and have fun." Any special cookies you bake? "We make cookies all year. We just spend time together and have fun." I leaned forward, "BUT, you have to have a favorite Christmas cookie, RIGHT???" She leaned back and
In shock, I moved on to the dates I knew they celebrated Christmas: Christmas Eve, First Christmas, Second Christmas and Old Christmas.
I asked about the children’s play at the one-room schoolhouse on Christmas Eve. What is it like? "Oh, well, we don't always have it on Christmas Eve. It may be three days before Christmas." I almost fainted. I thought of little Hannah and Eli in their little Amish clothes not understanding what "Eve" meant. The night before? So I asked her if the kids minded changing the date every year, and she gently leaned toward me with a look of concern, thinking I'm neurotic. "Now, why would that matter for?" She tries to calm me down...
On to Christmas Day, or First and Second Christmas as the Amish call them, Dec. 25th and 26th. Any traditional meals? Please, tell me you have this! "We just spend time together and have fun." How about Second Christmas, is there something special you do? "We just spend time together....."
Maybe I just needed to hear it ten times to hear what she said. To the Amish, once again, nothing is more important than spending time together and enjoying each other company. 
I asked her about her favorite Christmas memory as a child. Her eyes lit up and she said she got a doll once. She could describe that doll in vivid detail. Then she went on to tell of her brothers’ presents, plastic animals that she then went on to describe, clapping her hands as she recalled their happy expressions.  But she added, "Aw, we had so much fun spending time together..."
As I’m still in shock, I thought maybe they're more into their German roots, and celebrate on January 6th, which they call Old Christmas. She must be saving this day to tell me all their holiday traditions. She only said, "Nothing special....we just spend time together...seriously."
To be honest, I'm still taking it all in and I started this research on Amish holiday’s months ago. But I think it’s helped my two sisters and me change our view of the holidays. We now have First and Second Thanksgiving! I didn't have 20+ people at my perfectly clean house with that just perfect turkey, and then half-way through the meal feel the need to drop dead. No, I saw my sisters the next day and we even talked about going to see a movie, but ended up ... spending time together just having fun!
Who knows what changes we'll make for Christmas? I just hope we can simply spend time together and have fun, no matter what day we actually celebrate the holiday.