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(An excerpt from Two Years as an Amish Schoolteacher, continued from previous post….)
The families soon began to trickle in–parents, babies, grandparents. Some came by car with a driver, many came by horse and buggy. Some of the men carried in with them the benches they used for church services. I always marvel at how many people are able to fit in one of those little Amish buggies. They used those same squeezing skills to fill the benches. If an Amish school had a fire code, we blew past the legal number of occupants in a short time.
We didn’t have any sets, costumes, or anything that would indicate a Christmas program. In fact, I had been instructed by the school board that a recent Amish trend of hanging a curtain across the front of the classroom and having the children come out one by one to say their pieces was not acceptable. It was too theatrical, attention-seeking, and too much like the English way of doing things, they said. (It’s easy for us to snicker over the concern for a simple curtain. But it’s those little touches that compound and turn a simple Christmas program into an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza with costumes, rehearsals, and sets that exhaust children, teachers, and parents alike.) So the children stood in the front of the classroom and took turns stepping out of the choir arrangement in between the songs to recite their poems.
It’s difficult to describe, but Amish sing with an Appalachian-like lilt, unlike any singing I’ve heard before or since. Amish schools are judged in part by the quality of their singing. Loud singing is good singing, and the more booming, the better. The bonus of singing on key is just a happy bit of luck.
After the program, the nervous tension of the morning completely dissipated. The children exchanged their gifts with each other and I passed around my gifts to all the children. None of the gifts were expensive or elaborate–coloring books, small games, puzzles, marker sets, flashlights, etc.–but that didn’t lessen the excitement. Some of the parents brought treats, like popcorn balls or candy canes to share with both the school-aged and preschool children. All of the families presented me with small gifts, such as a glass candy dish, a handmade doily, or some homemade candy. The parents had also taken a collection for one larger gift for me. One year I received a table with four chairs, and the next year a chiming wall clock, which still gives me a reminder of my Amish school days every fifteen minutes.
My Amish school days were good ones. In the excess that makes up much of modern life, the simplicity of an Amish school Christmas was a refreshing reminder to me that more activities and stuff doesn’t mean increased happiness.
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