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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Amish Schools, Part One: Celebrating Christmas

Last December my husband and I had the privilege of attending the Amish School Christmas programs (two of them) of our “Amish grandchildren”—which is to say, the children of some of our Amish friends.  I’ve known both mothers since before they married, and now they have eleven children between them!

Anyway—it was a rare glimpse into how Amish school, church, and family life are tightly intertwined.  Most Amish children in this area get their education in private parochial schools, taught by Amish teachers and supported by the people of their local church districts.

Both programs followed the same basic format:  The children presented poems, songs, skits, and short plays, both as a large group and by grade levels.  Each school had about 40 students (or “scholars,” as they are called).  They attend school from grades 1 through 8—never beyond—but that’s a story for another day.

The first program was at a school in Goshen County, Indiana, and it lasted about 90 minutes.  (The photo above  is of a different local Amish school.)  I was so impressed at how well-rehearsed the students were, and the great amount of material they had memorized so flawlessly!  But my favorite part was a song which all the students sang (in German) a song which was called “Kommet Alle Zu Dem Stalle”—which translates as “Come All to the Stable.”  The children sang the song strong and clear, and it was like hearing a choir of angels.

The second program was at a school in St. Joseph County, Michigan, and it lasted about 60 minutes.  Again, the students were well-rehearsed and poised, and they had been carefully coached to speak loudly enough to be heard.  (Both programs had perhaps 150 people in the audience, and we were almost the only “English” in the crowd.)

Besides all the English-language songs, poems, and skits which were performed, the students and the audience sang “Stille Nacht,” which is our popular Christmas carol “Silent Night” in German. 

But the highlight for me was the singing of a song from the German hymnal which is used by the Amish.  This one was sung to an old Amish tune, as all their Sunday church hymns are.  It’s hard to describe their church singing style…  It’s unchanged from the 1600s and sounds almost other-worldly, with its lack of a regular tune or rhythm.  The words are below. 

After the second program we attended, there was lots of good food served potluck-style in the school’s lower level, and I was able to take this picture (below) of the front half of the schoolroom.  The student desks had been removed and the Sunday-church benches moved in for the program.  (I wrote about the bench wagon in another post.)  I was glad to be able to share this part of Amish life, and it really made it feel like Christmas!

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 mainline 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 a 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. 


I had surgery in Illinois, but decided to have the radiation treatment in Indiana.  And Gary's last months at Pilkington were turning out nothing like he hoped they would be...  It was time to accelerate our plan!

By May I was living in Middlebury, and Gary followed in early June.

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