by Suzanne Woods Fisher
"The dearest things of life are mostly near at hand." Amish Proverb
On a farm, Christmas morning is like any other day. The cows must be milked. The animals must be fed and tended to. But when the chores are finally done, Christmas begins like any other home. On the Stoltzfus farm, the five children gather in the kitchen, eager to see what their parents had prepared while they were choring in the barn. These children aren't looking for a decorated Christmas tree because that's not what the Amish do. But in front of each child's place at the table rests a small pile of presents, covered with a pretty dish towel. This is how Amish families exchange gifts: in the spirit of the three wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child.
But the gifts aren't ready for opening, not yet. First, the family sits down to a special breakfast tradition: sizzling bacon, savory egg casserole, hot muffins and cold cereal.
After breakfast, sixteen-year-old Lydia and her two younger sisters help their mother with the dishes. "And then we sit at the kitchen table while my grandfather pulls out his well-worn Bible and read the Christmas story to us," Lydia said. "He does it every Christmas morning. It's the only day of the year that he would read to us so we all sit quietly and listen carefully."
Finally, Lydia's parents say it is time to open the gifts. "We pulled off the dishtowel to find lots of homemade gifts! Some cookies, candy and nuts, usually a new dress for me and my sisters that my mother had sewn. Each of my brothers opened a new shirt. And my oldest brother, Elam, was given a pocketknife—something he had been hoping for. My sister and I were given some stationery for our letter writing. And books! We all love to read and share our books with each other."
One Christmas, in particular, stands out for Lydia. After the children had opened their gifts, read a chapter or two of their new books and polished off the Christmas cookies, Lydia's father stood and stretched his back. "It's getting a little cold in here, don't you think?" he said. "Elam, why don't you add some wood to the fire?"
Elam went over to the woodbin, opened it up and let out a loud whoop! There were five pairs of used ice skates, one for each child. "They didn't all fit perfectly," Lydia said, "so Mom found us plenty of extra socks."
That afternoon, the family bundled up and went to Blackbird Pond. "Daddy taught us how to skate," Lydia said. "Lots of other families were there, too, so we had a skating party. We made snow cream and stayed until the sun started to set and we were too cold to continue. I'll never forget that afternoon."
Too soon, it was time for chores. Even on Christmas evening, the cows must be milked, the animals needed to be fed. "As I went to bed that night," Lydia said, "listening to the hum of my parents' voices downstairs, I thought about the happy day we had together. I think that might have been the best Christmas we ever had."
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's
grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle,
wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her
weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. Please subscribe to this blog and consider leaving a comment!