Two years ago I visited the Amish farming community of Clark, some twenty miles north of Columbia in mid-Missouri. On that beautiful summer’s day there was lots of visible activity, with men and boys working in the fields, a steady flow of horse-drawn buggies travelling along the roads and visitors stopping off at farmhouses displaying signs indicating fresh produce, bread, butter, rugs and quilts being sold.
This New Year’s Day I decided to check out what the area is like in winter. Although the temperature was below freezing, it was dry and there was a complete absence of any snow on the ground. Given that that the roads were clear, what was striking was how few people – locals or visitors – were to be seen. On reflection, however, this was hardly surprising.
Apart from tending to cattle, sheep and poultry, there’s little outdoors-work to be done in the mid-winter apart from repairing fences, spreading manure on fields and occasional tilling of the ground in preparation of early-year planting. Instead, men and women are largely occupied working indoors: maintaining farm equipment, milking cows, carpentry and sewing. In this respect Amish life is little different from that of people in most other farming communities in places where there are clear contrasts between winter and summer. Also, New Year’s Day is recognised by the Amish as a holiday, meaning that non-essential work is postponed in the same way as their “English” neighbours do.
New Year’s Eve rituals are centred on religious observances that characterise most aspects of Amish community life, with simple church services and hymns asking for God’s blessings for the year ahead. I may be completely wrong, but I doubt that celebrations involve wild partying!
New Year’s Day itself is essentially non-religious day of rest. Schools and local business are closed, allowing time for families visit one another, just like anywhere else in America. What might be different is that it’s probably safe to say that very few Amish cry off any commitments because they’re nursing a hangover…..