…I divided up the chores, with some of them clapping erasers, washing off desks, and emptying trash, while the older boys moved all the desks to one side of the room then back to the other side while the older girls and I swept the floor. A few girls drew pictures on the blackboard and a welcome message for our guests. During the weekly art time in December, the scholars had colored Christmas pictures, made stars from old Christmas cards, glued construction paper chains, and hung paper snowflakes from the ceiling.
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 brought 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 prescribed number of occupants in a short time.
We didn’t have any sets, costumes, or anything that would indicate a program. In fact, I had been informed by the school board that the 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 the rest of us to snicker over the concern for a simple curtain. But it’s those little things that 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 in between the songs to recite their poems.
Amish schools are judged in part by the quality of their singing. Loud singing is good singing, and the more booming, the better. They sing with an Appalachian-like lilt, unlike any singing I’ve heard before or since.Without accompaniment or note reading, song tunes change slightly over time and vary from school to school.
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 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 collected for one larger gift for me. Here is one gift that still hangs in our home.
My Amish school days were good ones. In the excess that makes up much of modern life, the simplicity of an Amish school Christmas is a refreshing reminder that more activities and stuff doesn’t mean increased happiness.