The Pennsylvania Amish are a highly private group of people. They’ve built their lives around their conviction to the church, isolating themselves from secular culture. With such private lives, we often have many misconceptions about their holidays and traditions.
Despite what many think, the Amish do celebrate holidays! What holidays do they celebrate? Though they have some holidays unique to their religion, you might be surprised to learn that you and the Amish share some holiday celebrations. Below, we’ll explore some of those holidays and what they look like for the Amish community.
Christmas – December 25th
Probably one of the most common questions when it comes to Amish holidays and traditions is, do the Amish celebrate Christmas? The answer is yes — in fact, they celebrate it twice (more on that later). Christmas is the most important holiday in the Amish Community.
Like most religious affiliations, it’s celebrated on December 25th and it’s recognized as the day Jesus Christ was born. To them, it’s a day full of family, food, and most importantly – Jesus.
Though the Amish celebrate Christmas, their holiday traditions are a bit different than the “English” (non-Amish) ways of celebrating. For starters, they rarely decorate the home with a big tree or lights. Instead, they might decorate with some candles and greenery.
Each year, Amish school children host a Christmas program on or around Christmas day. Here, they’ll sing carols, put on skits, and recite scripture from the Bible. Some communities even extend the offer to their non-Amish neighbors.
There are no wishlists or visits to Santa Claus, but some families may have a small gift exchange on the 25th. A common tradition in most Amish families is making Christmas cards. Children and adults will handmake cards to exchange with other families and sometimes even their non-Amish friends.
A traditional Christmas dinner is prepared by the women and it usually consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, fruits, and Christmas pudding. They’ll also bake plenty of their favorite desserts like Christmas cookies, shoofly pie, and brown sugar date drops.
Second Christmas – December 26th
On the 26th of December, the Amish celebrate what they call “Second Christmas.” This day is for relaxing or visiting with their extended family. They’ll share another big meal together, but everyone brings a dish so the women don’t have to spend another afternoon preparing more food in the kitchen.
The rest of the day is spent singing Christmas songs, reading scripture, and spending quality time together.
Easter Sunday (April)
That’s right, the Amish celebrate Easter too! They recognize this holiday as the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. To them, it’s a highly spiritual day spent engrossed in their faith and community.
Their Easter celebration begins on the Friday before Easter Sunday. They call this day “Good Friday,” and it’s spent fasting, reading scripture, and praying.
Amish families celebrate Easter in a variety of different ways, but no family recognizes the concept of the Easter Bunny. Just like Christmas — and generally, all holidays — the Amish celebrate the day in reflection of their faith.
However, most families will allow children to color Easter eggs and even have an egg hunt. They may also participate in outdoor activities and games like volleyball or softball.
Many Amish families will also celebrate Easter Monday, which occurs the following day. This day is spent similar to the Sabbath – resting and spending time with family. They return to their normal work schedule on Tuesday.
Easter is one of the holidays where the Amish don’t prepare a large feast, though they will still prepare a dinner meal larger than usual. Interestingly, eggs are the main part of their Easter meal. They represent life and rebirth — just like the resurrection of Jesus.
Some of the eggs they might serve include Amish pickled red beet eggs, deviled eggs, and peanut butter eggs.
Ascension Day – 40 days after Easter Sunday
Ascension Day is a unique holiday celebrated in most Amish communities. The exact date is movable, but it happens exactly 40 days after Easter Sunday. They recognize this day as the mark of Jesus’ bodily “ascension” or return to Heaven.
Like most of their holidays, Ascension Day is spent away from work. They close shop for a day of rest and instead, spend quality time with family and community members.
Though they might invite family or friends over to share a meal, there is no large feast or dinner preparation for this Amish holiday. They’ll likely have a small picnic with their family or church.
Pentecost Monday (Monday after Pentecost)
Celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday, the Amish take the day off to observe Pentecost. They recognize this day as the day the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles. Some refer to this holiday as the church’s birthday, as it marks the start of the Christian church’s mission of evangelism.
Pentecost actually falls on a Sunday, but the Amish take the following Monday off to rest. They use the day off to reflect on their faith and remind themselves that their faith is more important than work and money.
Similar to Ascension Day, there’s no large feast prepared for Pentecost Monday. They’ll enjoy more picnic-style foods like deviled eggs, broccoli salad, potato salad, and coleslaw with family and friends.
Though Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, the Amish have adopted it as one of their celebrations. The Amish work 6 days of the week, so Thanksgiving allows them a day of rest to spend with their family.
The Amish celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way the non-Amish do: family, feasts, and free from work. However, this holiday falls in the middle of their wedding season, so sometimes, their Thanksgiving celebration may be deserted to attend a wedding instead.
Like the non-Amish, their Thanksgiving feast includes turkey, potatoes, gravy, and stuffing. Some other unique side dishes you might find on their table include broccoli salad, sweet potato casserole, or deviled eggs.
For dessert, they’ll have the classics: shoofly pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, whoopie pies, and cookies.
New Year’s Eve/Day – December 31st & January 1st
Surprising to some, the Amish also celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But of course, it’s spent quite differently than the secular way of celebrating. There are no parties, watching the ball drop, or New Year’s resolutions.
For the Amish, New Year’s Eve is treated like any other day of the year. Some will go to sleep at their normal bedtime, while others might stay up to watch the clock strike 12 before going to sleep. Either way, there are no late-night parties and certainly no alcohol.
New Year’s Day is when the celebration begins. Since it’s not recognized as a holy day, they aren’t required to fast or attend church. It’s simply a day free of work responsibilities.
On the other hand, some of the younger Amish men under the age of 21 might use the holiday as a chance to work. In their culture, any money they make for work goes to their family until they are married or turn 21. On New Year’s Day, they can keep any money they earn while working for themselves!
All Amish folk celebrate the New Year with a pork and sauerkraut feast. When the Amish migrated to America, they brought with them the tradition of pork and sauerkraut. If you live in a country or state populated with Amish people, you too might share in this tradition.
Harvests are bare in the Wintertime. Using canning methods, the Amish can preserve their vegetables and even meats to last for months without refrigeration. New Year’s Day gives them a chance to enjoy the food that they’ve stored away.
You might also find mashed potatoes and chunky homemade applesauce on the table at an Amish New Year’s Day meal.
The Amish celebrate communion twice a year – one in the Fall and the other in Spring.
Their communion services last about 6-8 hours, but can even last up to a day!
The Amish hold their communion services in one of the church member’s homes. Here, they confess their sins to each other and focus on strengthening their community and its unified commitment to God.
By tradition, they’ll consume wine and bread, but they might also take part in a foot-washing ritual, a sermon, and a shared meal.
If you’re wondering how their communion differs from the Catholic tradition, this resource explains the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation — something that the Amish reject.