My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Old Christmas

So, I noticed this sign the other day...  What exactly is “Old Christmas”? 

Turns out it is what the Christian church calls “Epiphany”–exactly twelve days after Christmas and the traditional date of the Three Wise Men coming to Bethlehem to find the infant child Jesus.  The Amish all over North America celebrate it as a major holiday.  Amish businesses are always closed, as well as those mostly staffed by the Amish.

For more details, I turned to a couple of websites and my Amish friend Glenn.

Der Dutchman News says that throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas was a twelve-day feast which began on December 25 and ended on January 6—thus the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  But with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in place of the old Julian calendar in the 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII declared that December 25 was to be celebrated as Christmas Day.  Some Protestant groups, including the Amish, rejected that decree and continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6.  These days the Amish celebrate both days, while the rest of us stick to December 25th.

The Amish, however, keep their December 25th celebrations much plainer and simpler than ours.  Gifts are exchanged, but in a very low-key way compared to our excesses.  There are no Christmas trees or decorations in the house, and no Santa Claus.  The day is mainly for food and family gatherings, in addition to celebrating the birth of Christ.

North Country Public Radio’s website says that both holidays are for visiting and eating, but one thing sets the two days apart: “Old Christmas is a fasting day, which means that you fast until noontime, and so as one person told me, “It’s more fun to go visiting on December 25th, because then you're not fasting in the morning—you get started celebrating from the time you arrive!” 

My friend Glenn added a few details as to how Old Christmas is celebrated in Amish Indiana.  He said that in there are different traditions for different families, but he celebrates Old Christmas as his father did.  Generally, in this Amish settlement, the morning is a time for fasting.  (He thinks that in Amish Pennsylvania, they don’t have that tradition.)  Then from lunchtime onwards, it’s a time for good food and visiting with family, friends, and neighbors.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Morning in Amish Indiana

Saw this church gathering on our way to church this morning...  There are usually 25-35 families in a church district.  This one may be smaller, since the Amish population in our neighborhood (a bit northwest of Middlebury) is just starting to grow.  Church lasts from about 9 a.m. until noon, with a meal following, including the famous "Amish church peanut butter."  The white bench wagon can be seen just to the right of the house.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Shipshewana Ice Festival

So, earlier this month was the 10th Annual Shipshewana Ice Festival. 

I’m not fond of anything that happens outdoors in the winter, but as your loyal and faithful reporter, I decided it was about time that I checked it out.  

The festival happens during the week after Christmas.  On Day One, the ice carving happens, with professional ice carvers drilling and shaving ice blocks all over the downtown area and beyond to the south—eleven in total this year.  Some choose their own designs, and some create carvings requested by their sponsors.

On Day Two, the “Competition Ice” event happens starting at 10 a.m. in front of the Wolfe Building at 345 Morton Street (on the edge of downtown).  The ice carvers compete for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize, creating their own original designs on larger blocks of ice.

Also on Day Two, there is a Chili Cook-off in the Wolfe Building, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.—or whenever the chili runs out!  $5 gets you the chance to taste samples of all the chili, and three voting tickets to drop off at the table of your choice.  The cooks compete for trophies, cash awards, and of course, bragging rights. 

There are three ways to do the Ice Festival: 
  • You can just walk around town and look at the sculptures.  
  • Or, you can walk around and look, and also purchase a $5 ticket to get into the Chili Cook-off tasting at the Wolfe Building. 
  • Or, you can buy a $15 Ice Festival pin, which gets you into the Chili Cook-off on Day Two and also gets you all kinds of discounts 35 local stores—and the discounts last through January 31!  (The festival brochure lists the locations of the various discounts.)  This year’s festival pins were designed by three local students.
 This year’s brochure says that the 2018 Ice Festival will happen on December 27th and 28th.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Moving to Indiana

So, maybe it’s time I explained a few things…

Sometimes people who read my blog posts or visit my facebook page think that I’ve always lived in Amish Indiana—but that’s not the case.  I moved here just eight months ago.  Before that, though, it was my favorite place for weekend getaways for the last thirty years!

I talked a lot about my story in my very first blog post, “How It Started.”  At the end of that post, I said this: 

“My husband and I hope to retire there in a few years—how wonderful that he shares my love of Amish Indiana!  When he first suggested retiring there, I thought, “What?  Leave my life in Illinois and start over?”  But now I am looking forward to it more than I can say.  It suits me.  It suits us.”

So, in the fall of 2016, we got serious about retiring, and we got serious about buying a new house.  We decided that we would retire shortly after I turned 62 and he turned 65—on July 1, 2017. 

By November 2016 we had purchased a ranch house in Middlebury, Indiana and—unexpectedly early—sold our home in Yorkville, Illinois.  It was time to move our clothes and few pieces of furniture to a rented condo in Yorkville, and everything else to Middlebury!  My husband spent lots of time moving trailer-loads of stuff over there, and I spent weekends unpacking and making it seem like home.  But it had to be just a weekend place for the time being.  Patience!

As 2017 rolled in, our plans changed because of two very unexpected “acts of God”—first, Gary’s place of employment (Pilkington in Naplate, IL) was blown apart by a tornado—and then I got stage 3 thyroid cancer. 


It was time to accelerate our plan!  By late May I was living in Middlebury, and Gary followed in early June.

So, here we are.  We love it here, and after a pretty brutal summer, I feel blessed to be alive and healthy (and cancer-free!) and living in Amish Indiana.  Sometimes dreams do come true.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Safety Vests

Last summer I started seeing something new on the local roads:  Amish people riding bicycles were wearing reflective safety vests. 

Although regular bicycles are not allowed in some Amish communities (such as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where a scooter-type push bike is used instead), they are very popular in Amish Indiana.  Even older citizens can often be seen riding them, and the buggy lanes along the sides of the main roads make it safer than it sounds.  For short hops, a bicycle is more convenient than hitching up a horse and buggy! 

Change is slow and rare in the Amish community, and it always piques my curiosity—so I asked my friend Ruth about them.  She said that the vests are becoming more and more common in the Shipshewana area.  Many of the older church members were hesitant—but the local authorities had a plan.  They went into the local Amish schools and talked about the vests, and even passed some out to the kids.  Naturally, the kids went home and spread the word to their parents and grandparents.

It’s a good safety feature, and when my two new stainless steel knees heal up this spring, I plan to use a safety vest myself, when riding on the streets.  (Shipshewana/Middlebury also has an excellent seven-mile bike trail, which I’ve written about previously.)  It just seems like the smart thing to do.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Pontoon Boat

Did we buy a retirement boat? No! This pontoon boat, which will spend the winter in our new pole barn, belongs to a young, unmarried Amishman we know. He and two friends each put in $15,000 to purchase it a couple of years ago. (There are many lakes in this part of Indiana.) 

Note: He has already “joined church,” so this isn’t a rumspringa thing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shipshewana Corn Maze

This corn maze, an annual autumn feature in Shipshewana, Indiana, is beyond belief!  

More info here.

And an aerial video can be found here.

Aerial photo source: