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The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here again, and in the United States, Dec. 25th is both the federal and traditional date of Christmas. Whether religious or secular, the majority of the population are so accustomed to this that calendars and businesses closings are planned around the date. Outside of the single calendar day of Christmas, there are other, older traditions that may be less familiar. Do you know what the Twelve Days of Christmas* are, and why they’re called that? How about Epiphany?

(*I am not referring to the song in which the gifter seems rather obsessed with birds. Also, birds are terrible gifts.)

Epiphany, Day of the Three Holy Wise Men, Old Christmas, Amish Christmas – they are all the same day, the 6th of January: twelve days after the birth of Christ. In 1582, the Julian calendar (which was based on phases of the moon) was discarded in favor of the modern Gregorian calendar. After that, the modern Christmas Day began to be celebrated on December 25th — but many protestant groups, including the Anabaptists, continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th, and the Anabaptist religion is what eventually led to today’s Amish and Mennonite faiths in the U.S.

As time has gone on, the Amish and Mennonite communities have kept to their tradition of celebrating Old Christmas on January 6th, while also adopting a December 25th Christmas celebration along with mainstream culture. On that day, 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, the Christmas Day on the 25th of December is a celebration about getting together with family, visiting friends, and enjoying food and fellowship.

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.

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 most notably celebrate Epiphany. In Shipshewana, both holidays are observed by the Amish, so Amish shops and businesses will be closed on the 6th of January for Epiphany, so plan your schedule accordingly!


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