Amish Christmas Traditions – Step Inside an Amish Household

Guest Post by Lovina Eicher; with Sour Cream Cut-Out Cookies Recipe

We are delighted to share these reflections by Lovina Eicher, popular columnist and cookbook author, who has been writing Lovina’s Amish Kitchen syndicated newspaper column for us since July, 2014. Enjoy! And a blessed, peaceful, and simpler Christmas from your friends at MennoMedia.

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Christmas Day is only days away. Daughter Lovina, 10, and son, Kevin, 9, are keeping track of exactly how many days. Every morning they mark off another day on the calendar. Oh, to be so young and carefree, with only worries such as how many days there are until Christmas!

Lovina and Kevin will both be in the elementary school Christmas program on Thursday evening. Next year Lovina will be a fifth grader and in middle school. This is her last Christmas program and Kevin has only next year—unbelievable! My husband Joe and I used to sit in the audience with the little ones while our older children were in the program. Now the six oldest children are back in the audience sitting with us, and our two youngest children are in the program.

On Friday the school will only have a half day of school. Lovina and Kevin’s classes are having a gift exchange. Kevin is so worried that he doesn’t have his gift wrapped yet. I want to make snacks for their party, and he reminds me every evening not to forget.

We were disappointed to hear that our children’s bus driver, Rich, has quit driving the bus route. He was a great bus driver to our children for almost eleven years. Daughter Loretta, 14, with her handicap needs more time to walk out to the bus and to get up the steps. Rich was always very patient and caring. So far they have had only a substitute driver, but the children are hoping the next bus driver will be like Rich was. We wish Rich well at his new job.

Joe will have his forty-sixth birthday on Monday, December 22. I want to have a birthday supper in his honor but am undecided yet which night to have it.

On Sunday the women in our church all decided what each one of us would bring to the annual Christmas potluck. I plan to take a large roaster with a pasta casserole. The potluck will be after our next church services, which will be on Dec. 28.

Joe and I will have our family Christmas on Christmas Day. The children usually want to open their presents before they eat, so we usually end up having a brunch. May we always remember the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season!

I wish all of you readers a joyous Christmas that brings blessings of peace and hope now and through the coming year 2015. May each of you stay healthy and enjoy being with family and friends through the holiday season. And most importantly, let us thank our Heavenly Father for bringing Jesus our Savior into the world so that our sins can be forgiven. Blessed wishes to all!

Here is a favorite recipe for sour cream cut-out cookies. We like this recipe to make Christmas cookies.

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Sour Cream Cut-Out Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons vanilla
3 1/2–4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Frosting:

1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup milk
food coloring (optional)
colored sprinkles (optional)
chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in the eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl, and stir with a whisk to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir until it forms soft but firm dough. Roll the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness on a floured surface. Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out the dough. Place the shapes on the prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes. Then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Cream the shortening, vanilla and 1 cup powdered sugar. Gradually add the milk and the rest of the powdered sugar, beating constantly. More powdered sugar can be added to make a thicker icing. Food coloring can also be added. Spread the frosting on the cooled cookies. Decorate with colored sprinkles or chocolate chips if desired.

Lovina Eicher is an Old Order Amish writer, cook, wife and mother of eight. Formerly writing as The Amish Cook, Eicher inherited that column from her mother, Elizabeth Coblentz, who wrote from 1991 to 2002. Readers can contact Eicher at PO Box 1689, South Holland, IL 60473 (please include a self-addressed stamped envelope for a reply) or at LovinasAmishKitchen@MennoMedia.org.

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If you know of a newspaper who might enjoy Lovina’s weekly recipes and slice of life from inside an Amish home, let us know!
 Contact editor@lovinasamishkitchen.com

SnowFort

A show fort Lovina’s children made!

An Alternative Presence at the Coast Guard Academy by Steve Carpenter

Before becoming Mennonite, I had a twenty year career in the Coast Guard, the fifth branch of the U.S.’s armed forces. I have not kept in touch with many of my former colleagues and rarely ventured back to my roots at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) in New London, Connecticut, where I graduated as an Ensign in 1977.

But this year, on Nov. 16, I went back for a memorial service for Betsy Teuton, the wife of Hank, my best friend in college. She died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. Approximately 600 people gathered in the academy’s auditorium for a time of worship and reflection on her remarkable life and witness. Betsy radiated Christ’s love and extended hospitality to all, but especially to the cadets at the CGA where she and her husband served as the campus representatives of the Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF). OCF is similar to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship except they have chapters on military academies and bases rather than on college campuses.

Hank & Betsy Teuton

Hank & Betsy Teuton

Betsy’s memorial service began with the blowing of a shofar, reminiscent of ancient Israel’s call to worship. Music permeated the memorial with professional military band members and a praise band comprised of current and former cadets leading those gathered in worship. The Superintendent of the CGA, Rear-Admiral Sandra Stosz, gave testimony to Betsy’s influence on the cadets.

RADM Sandra L. Stosz, USCG

RADM Sandra L. Stosz, USCG

Later, during a reception in the auditorium’s ball room she honored Betsy with a posthumous “Commander’s Award” which she presented to Hank. It was a beautiful service marked by genuine love and regard for the deceased and infused with heartfelt worship. Betsy was a remarkable woman who was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.

Gerry Hale, Hank Teuton, Steve Carpenter, Randy Beardsworth, Wayne Buchanan

Gerry Hale, Hank Teuton, Steve Carpenter, Randy Beardsworth, & Wayne Buchanan. Photo by Frank Cole.

However, I no longer felt entirely at home in this setting. The memorial was characterized by military protocol, although not a stuffy formality. A retired CG Captain officiated over well-dressed participants, many of whom had short cropped haircuts and wore military uniforms. The evening was also infused with deference to rank. For example, I was repeatedly called “sir” despite being in civilian garb, and the places of honor were occupied by admirals and other senior military officers. A senior military chaplain offered his words of remembrance. There were video appearances by Vice-Admiral Lee, Commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, along with several foreign missionaries.

You can imagine, then, how surprised I was when I noticed a casually dressed young couple, with the gentleman sporting dreadlocks. They were quite noticeable. I inquired about who they were and, to my surprise, learned the young woman, Sarah, is the daughter of Bob Durfey, another of my best friends during college. He was the retired CG Captain who emceed the service.

I sidled up to this young couple during the reception and remarked, “You guys are a breath of fresh air in the midst of all of these starched shirts!” Sarah was present with her boyfriend Jared, whom she met in San Francisco. I told them they reminded me of Shane Claiborne and asked if they knew of him and The Simple Way community he leads in Philadelphia. As expected, they did know and admire Claiborne. However, I was flabbergasted to learn that earlier this fall they were in Harrisonburg, Virginia, now my hometown, to attend the wedding of some Mennonite friends at Early Church. They said they were impressed with the work Mennonite Pastor Ron Copeland is doing at Our Community Place.

Joe Durfey, Jack & Sarah Smith with baby Kate, Sarah Durfey, Gared Dunham, Steve Carpenter. Photo by Frank Cole

Joe Durfey, Jack & Sarah Smith with baby Kate, Sarah Durfey, Jared Dunham & Steve Carpenter. Photo by Frank Cole

Here, standing before me, was a young woman who had grown up in the same military circles in which I formerly moved. She too was discovering Mennonites, but unlike my experience, she discovered them through her involvement with the alternative Christian voice expressed in the New Monastic movement.

One of the reasons I enjoy working at MennoMedia is that we project an alternative Christian viewpoint, expressed in Anabaptist thought and practices, into the marketplace of ideas. Herald Press books are often one link in the road some follow as they discover a people dedicated to following the Prince of Peace. The theology, lifestyle, and thinking of Mennonites is often very different from that of military chaplains and senior officers.

I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Sarah if she knew Joanna Shenk, associate pastor of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco and the author of Widening the Circle, the story of alternative Christian communities in the Mennonite orbit.

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There are two other recent Herald Press books that I would have liked to have given to some of my friends gathered at Betsy’s memorial service. These books could introduce this Coast Guard audience to an alternative expression of Christian faith that seeks to follow the Prince of Peace above country. They are:

For God and Country [in that order] by Logan Mehl-Laituri

ForGod&Country
and Reconcile: Conflict Transformation Ordinary Christians by John Paul Lederach.

Reconcile
Bill Hybels, co-founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, wrote a glowingly endorsement of Reconcile saying, “Lynne and I feel deeply called to the work of peacemaking these days. We know it is very near to the heart of the One we serve. No one’s writings have helped us more than John Paul Lederach’s.”

I was encouraged by Sarah’s experience with her Mennonite friends. I wish my military friends and classmates could also be exposed to Mennonites and their alternative expression of The Way. MennoMedia is an important link in this chain of influence, supporting relational witness with well-reasoned arguments and stories presented in print and other media forms.

Thank you for supporting MennoMedia’s work through your donations, and by buying, using, and sharing our materials.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter MennoMedia’s Director of Development & Church Relations

Everything you need to know, you will learn tomorrow

2013ImportOf2011Photos 028I recently spent a day in Nashville with a group of publishing peers. Our association is called the Protestant Church-owned Publisher’s Association (PCPA) and MennoMedia, previously Mennonite Publishing Network, and before that, Mennonite Publishing House, has been part of it for decades. I enjoy these meetings, partly for the sense of camaraderie, but even more so for the things I learn.

I never fail to come away challenged, encouraged and sobered. We all are feeling greatly challenged these day and we frankly share our successes and our failures. When I think that our problems at MennoMedia are unique, I realize that we are in good company. With the drastic changes happening both in church denominations and in the publishing industry, we are continually reminded that, “This work is not for the faint of heart.”

In our November meeting, our group had the privilege to hear from one of our peers, Neil Alexander, of the United Methodist Publishing House, who has announced his retirement. He shared some wisdom with us out of his 20 years’ experience as CEO. I share here the 10 things I heard from him:

  1. Be realistic about our situation: There are no safety nets and lots of competition. The assumptions of our core business model are being upended. There is no sentimentality and no discrimination—disruption hits everyone and you can’t make it go away.
  2. You are behind every day that you wake up. Hence the saying, “Everything you need to know, you will learn tomorrow.”
  3. MORE-BETTER-FASTER—this is what the customer wants.
  4. Be courageous in adapting new methods, while staying faithful to the mission. This is key: it’s a hard balance to strike, but a constant reminder of the “why” of what we do.
  5. Relentlessly innovate. If we don’t, someone else will—and then our job will be to manage decline.
  6. Prudently manage the risk. I would add here—don’t be afraid of mistakes, so long as you learn from them.
  7. Keep your head up—stay alert.
  8. “Mission” and “business” are not the same thing, but they are not enemies, either. The sweet spot is the conjunction of the two, when business and mission meet. This is a great reminder for denominational publishers who often get caught in an imagined competition between the two.
  9. Staff need to be highly adaptive, fearless but not stupid, must possess the ability to integrate, and have a capacity to change and grow. We must possess humility and not hubris.
  10. We must have a transcending purpose with a compelling objective. I like this one the most.

These are helpful insights, coming from a lot of years of experience. We have a lot to learn from each. This is one side of our work: a media and church landscape and environment that is evolving rapidly; old assumptions no longer fitting; trends coming faster and unexpectedly; plus the constant needing to adapt.

There is another side to be balanced against the difficulties in the preceding paragraph. I will share more of that in a post next week: the timelessness of our message; the need for rootedness, community and tradition; the need to non-conform to a rapidly changing and fast-paced society and environment, the need to slow down so that we hear God’s voice. How can we do our work, keeping both in mind and still keeping our souls, and our mission, intact? Maintaining this tension is essential to our work and the biggest challenge we face. How do we serve our mission, stick to our core values, do what we do best and develop our niche, in this environment? These are questions we face as we go forward.

More on that next week! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your comments and questions.

~Russ Eanes, Director

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