Amos Miller, of Middlebury, Indiana, is the ticket
taker at the carousel on the top floor of the Davis
Mercantile building in Shipshewana, Ind. Miller will
welcome his 8 children and 38 grandchildren home for
Christmas, where they will do a lot of singing and
Ind. — On a cold December night outside the Shipshewana
Furniture store, a towering imitation Christmas tree is
decorated with sparkling blue-green lights. Then comes a
hurried clip-clop, and a shuddering rattle. A heavy black
Amish buggy and its horse rumble past, cast in sharp
silhouette against the shimmering Christmas tree.
is a scene that is in this world, but not of it.
is a scene you will see almost nowhere else.
is Amish Christmas.
Shipshewana relies on 1.2 million tourists a year and
cultivates an image of a classic Christmas town, what it
wants for us and what its residents plan for themselves
are two different things.
Christmas is about dialing down, not up.
Singing. Family. A day off. That’s about it.
I look forward to most is having the family come,"
says Amos Miller, a local Amish man with eight children
and 38 grandchildren — all of them living close by
except for one daughter who moved a shocking 100 miles
decorations, fancy presents, trees and even religious
services are not part of the Amish holiday.
don’t do like that," he says, his face clear and
smooth, his small beard and plain, pressed clothes
speaking of an orderly life. "But a lot of Christmas
songs are sung."
people weary of the clattering Christmas machine, blaring
TV ads and their screaming "buy-buy-buy"
incantations, a December visit to Amish country in
northern Indiana is a relief.
buildings are white. The furniture is plain. No rowdy
bars, because there is no alcohol. There’s not a single
TV in the hotel lobby, or in restaurants or anywhere else
blaring ESPN or Fox News. It’s all white fences and
rural living. I look out my hotel window and see horses
and black buggies. Along the road, winter has stripped the
leaves off the trees, and the fields are bare with
stubble. The houses have driveways, but no cars. And I
feel embarrassed when my cell phone rings.
Amish are part of a strict Anabaptist group that came from
Switzerland to America in the early 1700s. In general,
they shun motor vehicles, electricity from the grid, TV,
phones and computers. They leave school after the eighth
grade, dress in old-fashioned garb, marry young and have
lots of children. Northern Indiana has 21,560 Amish, one
of the biggest populations in the nation.
the duality of Amish Christmas in Shipshewana is Levi
King, a local businessman who owns JoJo’s Pretzels and
some other shops. He grew up Amish in Lancaster, Pa.,
until age 7, when his parents left the faith. Nearly all
his relatives are Amish. His wife grew up Amish, too.
estimates that four in 10 business owners in Shipshewana
are formerly Amish and that 15 percent are currently
Amish. He also has many Amish employees, and they all are
relying on holiday tourists to buy lots of gifts in the
lushly holiday-decorated shops — even though the Amish
themselves tend to give small practical things like
flashlights or stools for Christmas.
many other religious folk, the Amish do not want to change
you, or convert you, or talk you out of buying an iPad or
that garish big-screen TV for Christmas. They just hope
you’ll stop by and pick up an Amish-made desk, quilt or
a big wheel of cheese, and stay in a nice Amish hotel and
dine at a local restaurant, and enjoy the sights so
different from your own life.
best thing about Christmas time in Amish country?
there is snow on the ground, you might still hear the
clop-clop of the horse, but you won’t hear the
buggy," King says. "It’s silent."
TO SEE THE AMISH
fascination with Amish people coincides with a swelling
number of them — 273,000 in the U.S., double that of
1991. It’s due to a high birth rate, not outsiders
joining. Here are more facts:
Amish settlements in U.S.
County area, Ohio — 31,980
County area, Pa. — 31,020
area, Indiana — 21,560
with most Amish people
York — 14,715
Amish tourist towns
of most visitors to Shipshewana
Many choices; try the Farmstead Inn at $79 and up in
winter. It is big and clean with a modest free breakfast.
YOU PLAN A VISIT TO SHIPSHEWANA:
talk to locals. "A lot of tourists come here thinking
they are not allowed to talk to the Amish. Some (locals)
are bashful, but most will talk to you," says Levi
King, a businessman who owns JoJo’s Pretzels and other
shops in town. "The only reason an Amish person
wouldn’t talk to you is that he is in a hurry to get
ride the Shipshewana Carousel. On the top floor of Davis
Mercantile, the 1906 carousel features animals found in
the Shipshewana area — chickens, pigs, dogs, horses. $2.
wander the warehouse-style E & S Sales Bulk Foods
grocery store. It’s where the regular Amish people shop,
and it is an eye-opener. You’ll see buggies parked
shoulder-to-shoulder in the parking lot, Amish women and
amazingly docile flocks of children, little girls wearing
little white caps, moms in Amish dress pushing giant
orange shopping carts piled with Sugar Pops. A lot of the
moms looked tired to me. With an average of seven
children, who wouldn’t be?
stop at the Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Haus (Cheese House) in
Middlebury, and watch the curds and whey turn into cheese.
pick up a copy of the Budget ($1, available around town).
The thick national newspaper of the Amish-Mennonite
community has a 19th century layout and contains reports
from hundreds of local correspondents with news about who
died, who was born, about canning applesauce and cows in
hit a buggy. I saw one almost get run over by a semi-truck
turning left at a four-way stop.
expect to see holiday decorations outside of town.
drive down side roads and notice what is NOT there —
cars, electrical lines, Christmas trees.
notice what’s NOT sold in the many stores — booze and
books depicting the wider world. Every book kiosk I saw
came from Choice Books, which distributes only
"wholesome" family and religious books.
enjoy the ice festival coming up Dec. 27-29.