An Amish Family Christmas
by Murray Pura
I was asked by Harvest House to write a Christmas novella about a year ago. At first I balked because writing a Christmastime story was not something I’d ever done. But gradually ideas and characters came to me. A man who is convinced he needs to go to war to save lives. Even if it cuts him off from the woman he loves. Even if it puts up a wall between himself and the people who have been his family and his world for his entire life. Even if it means his return home at Christmas will be the worst Christmas he’s ever known. I thought: Suppose you came home for Christmas and home didn’t want you?
A different kind of Christmastime story, yes. But it would still have its warm moments, its miracles, wonders, blessings, its touch from God. It would need them perhaps more than any usual Christmas story would.
So I began to research the Christmas traditions of the Amish and I decided to make their celebration of Christmas part of the climax of my story An Amish Family Christmas.
Is there a tree with colored lights and decorations? No. Do they string electrical lights on their houses? Of course not since they do not use electricity. Do they have a special church service? Well, they do not have church buildings so they do not meet in such places to celebrate Christ’s birth but they still have special gatherings to honor the birth of the Son of God.
On Christmas Eve they may gather in a home to sing Christmas hymns (of course there are no musical instruments to accompany the singing such as pianos or guitars). But this will take place after a Christmas program put on by the children at their schoolhouse – poems are shared, Scripture passages recited, songs sung. Teachers and students often exchange presents after this program.
Christmas Day begins with family devotions and after this the children happily open their presents while the adults look on. Later in the day the Amish gather together for a large Christmas meal in someone’s house. How is the house decorated? Even though there is no tree up and decorated with lights and balls, still there may be pine or spruce boughs arranged throughout the home. In addition, in a tradition I remember from growing up in my own home in southern Manitoba, Christmas cards (yes, they exchange cards during the Christmas season) may be strung up overhead in all their cheerful colors and with all their warm greetings. Candles are often set up throughout the house and homemade cookies and candies placed on plates for everyone to enjoy.
Christmas is a day of good cheer among the Amish. No visitor or guest at their December 25th gatherings would feel they had missed out on carols or worship or gifts or sweets or a sumptuous meal or abundant fellowship and friendship. And outside, patiently waiting for their families to return, the horses harnessed to the buggies are tethered. It would be Christmas at a horse’s trot or walk, to be sure, no busy stores or crowded sidewalks or heavy traffic, but perhaps a way of celebration that hearkens back to the 1800s is the right way to enjoy the Christmas season in America after all.
And that is how An Amish Family Christmas ends. Christmas Eve. A house decorated the way an Amish house is decorated for the season. Candles lit. Cookies on plates. And finally, when the carols begin, the sort of carols the Amish sing. Carols in German.
They don’t sing O Tannenbaum. That’s the carol about the Christmas tree and the Amish don’t put up Christmas trees. But they do sing one of the most famous carols of all time, one written in Austria in 1818, Stille Nacht, Silent Night. Most of us sing it in English. The Amish only sing it in German. The same language they use for prayer and preaching.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
When you have a story like An Amish Family Christmas, when a prodigal is returning home but the return is not easy or even welcome, not only the story has to be strong and beautiful despite the conflict within it, the ending has to be even stronger and more beautiful. Because it’s a Christmas story. Because it’s an Amish story. But mostly because it’s a God story, a God story about the God who so loved the world he gave his only Son. The angel said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.” That is the challenge I faced with An Amish Family Christmas – to take a sad story and bring it to a heavenly conclusion. It’s my prayer that people are inspired and blessed by the story because, to some degree, I’ve been able to do that.
Merry Christmas and God be with you this season and in the year to come, always a year of unknowns, but always faced at the side of the God we know and who knows us.
Frohe Weihnachten und der Herr sei mit euch sein.