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An Amish Birthday

An Amish friend of mine once told me a delightful birthday story. It concerned a neighbor lady in his church district, whom we will refer to as Mattie. She was celebrating her 80th birthday.

Plans had been made to surprise Mattie following the church service in the district on Sunday. Although it was not her birthday that particular Sunday, it was "close enough." Mattie was one of the first to arrive for the church service which, according to Amish tradition, is held in a neighborís home. Mattie put her wraps in the laundry room of the house, as was customary for Amish ladies. After she had entered the house, a box was brought out of the closet where it had been hidden. There were some decorations on the box, pictures of flowers and such. As the other members of the congregation arrived, they put in a small gift, and put their name in a folder as a remembrance.

After the church service and lunch, the men were sitting and talking in one room, the women in another beside them. More people were lingering than would normally be the case, although Mattie probably didnít notice this. (It was also the deaconís birthday, but he had told his family earlier in the morning, "Now donít you say a word to anybody.")

Suddenly, a birthday cake with 80 candles was carried out through the open doors. The deacon got very flustered as the cake moved towards him, most likely thinking the birthday surprise was for him! But the cake went right past him to Mattie in the other room.

Mattie was surprised, and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to her in English. Then came the gifts. The idea was to try and have 80 presents, and she was told to open one a day. When someone mentioned that this would take months, it was suggested that two a day would be fine.

By this time, of course, word had gotten around that it was the deaconís birthday, so some candles were lighted once again, and another round of "Happy Birthday" was sung for him. Mattie wanted to cut the cake and share one third of it with him, but the women tried to discourage her from doing so. They wanted her to take the cake home for another surprise party to be held that evening.

In spite of a mild "scolding" over cutting her cake, Mattie insisted on giving a large piece to the deacon. But one of the women took this piece and cut it even smaller before giving it to him. We can only imagine what Mattie was making of all this! Apparently such birthday celebrations held on a Sunday afternoon following church are pretty unusual.

That night, Mattie was expecting some visitors at her home, but at her neighborís a much larger group of some 18 people were gathered in secret to surprise her yet again. Mattie was called next door, and discovered her birthday partying had not yet finished! More gifts were added toward the goal of 80 Mattie had moved into this church district only a few years ago, and these parties were a good example of how Mattie had been warmly accepted by the congregation.

The following Friday, Mattieís neighbor had made plans to take her out visiting in the carriage that evening. Mattie was told they would be stopping to pick up another lady along the way. As the horse pulled up to the house, the friend came out to say she was not quite ready, and suggested they come into the house out of the winter cold. Inside, yet another birthday surprise was waiting.

The neighbor lady had invited some girls who were friends of hers but who lived 15 to 30 miles away (outside the church district) to come and surprise Mattie. They were all there waiting for her with a cake and an "8" and "0" shaped in candles. After cake, ice cream, and conversation, Mattie must surely have assumed that her party was over. But the girls had also brought gifts. They were hoping to reach 80 gifts in all, too, and in the process had ended up with 86!

Mattie opened these presents, which were mainly useful things. Among other items, she received non-perishable food, fancy soaps in the shape of animals, and even a miniature orange crate filled with little magnetic oranges to put on the refrigerator door.

Later, Mattie herself noted how heart-warming this acceptance among such a group of happy people was to her. I donít know how long it took for Mattie to open all her gifts, but surely the love and friendship that they represented will stay with her for many more birthdays to come.

Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou

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