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!

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