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What is Old Christmas and why do The Amish celebrate it?

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

Christmas season is here, and for most of the world, the holiday is celebrated on December 25. However, the Amish celebrate what’s called ‘Epiphany’ or ‘Old Christmas’ on January 6 — but why?

According to Amish tradition, January 6 (twelve days after Christmas) was the date that the Three Wise Men came to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. And for a long time, centuries ago, Christmas was celebrated on January 6. However, in 1582, the Julian calendar (which was based on phases of the moon) was discarded in favor of the modern Gregorian calendar. After that, Christmas Day began to be celebrated on December 25 — but many protestant groups, including the Anabaptists, continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6.

As time has gone on, the Amish have kept their tradition of celebrating Old Christmas while also adopting a December 25 Christmas celebration along with mainstream culture. An Old Christmas celebration for the Amish differs from a December 25 Christmas celebration. For example, on Old Christmas, the Amish will fast until noon, and then celebrate with a large meal later in the day. Amish employees do not work on Old Christmas, and many Amish-staffed businesses are closed for the holiday.

On December 25, many Amish orders exchange gifts, but it’s unlikely that they will decorate their homes in the same way that English people do. You won’t find a Christmas tree in an Amish home, but baked goods are plentiful. For the Amish, Christmas is a celebration about getting together with family, visiting friends, and enjoying food and fellowship.

While there are people all over the world who celebrate Old Christmas (France, Germany, Austria, and other European countries also take part), in America, it is the Amish who notably celebrate Epiphany.

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