What if Jesus were Amish?By Lamont A. Woelk
On my desk is The Christmas Story by Carol J. Haile and Freiman Stoltzfus, published by Firenze Press, Wyomising, Pa., 2001, 62 pages, $27.95. This is a delightful book that places the birth of Jesus in an Amish setting.
Stoltzfus grew up in an Amish family in Lancaster County, Pa., and as an adult chose to leave the Amish community to pursue, among other things, a career as an artist. From his knowledge of the Amish he has painted all of the pictures in the book to depict the Christmas story taking place among people dressed in Amish clothing and living in an Amish community.
Mary appears as a young Amish woman, first in a garden and then walking barefoot in a plowed field. Joseph is seated on a stool at his workbench, his head resting on his hand, asleep, depicting his dream about Mary’s pregnancy. Around him are typical Amish woodworking tools and a couple of finished bird houses. When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, they are shown working on an Amish-style quilt.
The journey to Bethlehem is pictured as a road full of Amish buggies and horses traveling in the rain and a few people on foot under umbrellas. The shepherds, in Amish dress, are startled while watching their sheep under a grove of trees. The angels’ song is pictured as swirls of brightness floating through the clouds and stars. Stoltzfus has chosen to leave the angels to the reader’s imagination.
Bethlehem is an Amish village of houses with lights in their windows and a large barn with two silos, to which the shepherds walk over a layer of snow with snow falling lightly around them. The scene in the barn where Jesus has been born is warm. The family is surrounded by animals and birds, straw bales and quite a few people in Amish dress. Jesus is covered with a quilt. A kerosene lantern stands beside the crib.
The setting for the presentation of Jesus at the temple is pictured as an Amish worship service with the people gathered in the large room of an Amish home, seated on backless benches with men and women seated on separate sides. Simeon and Anna are an elderly Amish couple, Simeon with a full white beard.
The Magi include a young man, a middle-aged man and an elderly man, with beards appropriate for each age. They arrive in buggies with gifts — a box decorated in an Amish style, an orange and a quilted blanket, and a basket covered with a small quilt. The star guiding them stops over the village. There is snow on the ground, but the sky is clear. Amish children are skating on a nearby pond.
On the flight into Egypt the holy family is camped for the night in a grove of trees. Mary, seated and leaning against a tree with a fire burning nearby, holds Jesus close as Joseph brings more wood for the fire and carries a kerosene lantern.
Haile is a calligrapher and artist in her own right and lives in Berks County, adjacent to Lancaster County, so is familiar with the Amish culture and way of life.
Using the King James Version for the beauty and dignity of its language, she has painted the text in lovely calligraphy. She used the German translation for the opening words of Mary’s Magnificat and for the opening of Simeon’s hymn of praise. She has encircled the words, “And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him,” with a lovely fraktur-style design enclosing the words of John 3:16.
Haile has added much decoration to the entire book in the Pennsylvania Dutch fraktur style.
It is appropriate that Stoltzfus and Haile have created a beautiful book placing the Christmas story among the Amish, who are not unlike the humble people among whom Jesus was born. Readers will enjoy the newness it gives to the story we know and love.
Lamont A. Woelk, of Richlandtown, Pa., is a retired General Conference Mennonite minister.
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