Q&A with Cindy Woodsmall
Main characters Sadie Yoder and Levi Fisher have no desire to settle down and marry anyone, much to the frustration of their Old Order Amish parents. Why are they both resistant to romance?
As an awkward older teen, Sadie experiences the most embarrassing heartbreak that can happen to an Amish woman. Because of the depth of her humiliation, her ministers and district give her a kind of independence that’s very unusual—and unheard of for females. As the years progress, Sadie thrives in this freedom, loving her life and not wanting anything or anyone to interfere with it. She knows her liberty to live as she does is as easily broken as a pie crust, and she won’t let any man take it from her.
In a different region of Pennsylvania, Levi Fisher deals with wounds too, but not from losing a girl, fiancée, or wife. At twenty-four, he’s never had any of those. He’s never even been in love. But he cared for his sister-in-law as much as he did his own sisters, and when she left his brother and son, Levi was broken. He moved in with his brother and nephew, and the three of them work hard to make that house a home. If his sister-in-law, whom he’d known well and trusted, could leave her husband and baby, Levi has no interest in putting his life in any woman’s hands.
Sadie and Levi devise a plan to keep their families from meddling in their lives. Is it common for Amish young adults to delay marriage?
Although it’s not as scandalous now to wait an extra year or two as it was a few years back, Amish are taught from infanthood onward that life is all about family, and to start your own is a sign of adulthood. Their core values begin in Genesis chapter 1, when God says to be fruitful and multiply. Their ideal life plan is not to get an education, become established financially, build equity, and then find someone to marry. Their sole goal is to find someone to share life with, believing that is the most godly path a person can follow. So for someone to delay marriage while living a committed Amish life is unusual.
I think they learn it the way most of us do. Levi and Sadie have good relationships with loved ones who tenderly dare to hold up a mirror in front of each of them. What they see is startling to them, and they have to reassess who they are and who they want to be. Whether it’s in a parent-child relationship or with siblings or cousins or friends or couples, when we see our own hearts through the eyes of love, we change.
How do the Amish celebrate Christmas? Are there any unique traditions you found in your research?
I’m sure it won’t surprise you when I say that the Amish use almost no decorations. Most Amish consider such “trappings” a distraction from the story of Christ’s birth.
But for many decades they’ve been making or buying Christmas cards, and they enjoy sending and receiving them. They often hang up the cards throughout their homes as a form of simple holiday trimming. Also, many Amish traditionally put candles in a window and light them after dark, giving the house a warm, homey feel during Christmastime.
Most Amish are comfortable putting candles surrounded by wreaths on surfaces throughout the house. But you won’t find a Christmas tree or stockings hanging inside an Amish home. Based on the second commandment, which says not to make any graven image, there are no Nativity scenes or angel figurines, and definitely no traces of Santa.
Some Amish wrap Christmas presents in beautiful, shiny paper and set them in a special place, like near the hearth, while waiting for Christmas to arrive.
I think the most unique aspect I’ve come across concerning the Amish and Christmas is that the Amish celebrate what they call ZweddeGrischtdaag, which means Second Christmas. Second Christmas is usually celebrated the day after Christmas. Both days are holidays for the Amish. Unlike in our public or private schools, Amish children don’t get a whole week off. The teacher may dismiss them after a half day of school on Christmas Eve, or she/he may not. But they always get Christmas Day and Second Christmas off before school resumes.
Have you adapted any Amish traditions in your own Christmas celebration?
Rather than collapsing in exhaustion or just getting together to share leftovers after Christmas Day, my family has begun celebrating Second Christmas too, engaging one another in deep conversation and enjoying a relaxed atmosphere that says that family, not presents or feasts, is what Christmas is all about. We haven’t honed our new tradition well, but our hearts are there.
What characteristic of the Amish faith and lifestyle do you most admire? What modern convenience would you find hardest to give up?
I admire that, even in the midst of tragedy, Amish men and women know how to grab hold of the peace that passes understanding. As Scripture says in Philippians 4:5-7, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
For over a decade, I’ve seen a lot of turmoil in individual lives and for the Amish community as a whole. But their ability to find peace and refuse to let it go is admirable. Their determination to be a strong and steady support for one another is undeniable.
The second part of your question is really hard to answer. Our lives are built around hundreds of modern conveniences. And truth be told, many Old Order Amish now have some of them, like running water in their homes.
Until we’re tested, I don’t think we really know where our true priorities would lie. But it seems to me the most valuable conveniences are the ones that make it possible to spend more time with and communicate with loved ones, so transportation and cell phones are very important to me. Then again, if all technology were suddenly stripped away, I might have a different answer.