During the day after Black Friday, many families are still going out to shop and find the best deals possible. The Rotto family? Not quite. After waking up at 7 a.m., my family traveled two hours north of our central Indiana home to Shipshewana, Indiana.

What makes Shipshewana different than any other small, middle-of-nowhere town in Indiana? The culture. Shipshewana is a primarily Amish populated town that provided our family with many fascinating opportunities over Thanksgiving weekend.

The group traveling to Shipshewana included my parents, younger brother, aunt, grandparents, and a foreign exchange student who is staying with our family for a few weeks named Emiliano. After arriving in Shipshewana, our party found seats in the Blue Gate Theater, which holds a couple hundred people, and waited for the musical to start. “Our Christmas Dinner” took a humorous look at family Christmas traditions and the real meaning of Christmas with an added flair of Amish characters sprinkled in, as well. The interactions between the Amish characters and the non-Amish characters served to both entertain and educate the audience as to what sort of customs and traditions in which the Amish townspeople of Shipshewana engage.

The Blue Gate Theater's stage after the conclusion of "Our Christmas Dinner" (photo credit Anders Rotto).
The Blue Gate Theater’s stage after the conclusion of “Our Christmas Dinner” (photo credit Anders Rotto).

After the musical, our family went downstairs to eat in the dining room. The meal was “family style,” which is essentially all-you-can-eat. All of the food was prepared by hand by an Amish kitchen staff and consisted of fried chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, buttered noodles, green beans and fresh bread. To top it all off, each person chose their own pie to eat for dessert from over 30 different selections, including key lime, raspberry, cherry or chocolate. Basically, the meal was Thanksgiving 2.0 for our family without the headaches of preparation or cleanup. The only technological appliances used by the Amish staff throughout the whole meal were the lights overhead and a card reader used to swipe our credit card to pay for the lunch.

Some of the food served by the Blue Gate Theater after the musical (photo credit Anders Rotto).
Some of the food served by the Blue Gate Theater after the musical (photo credit Anders Rotto).

The remainder of our trip included visits to three different shops that sold handcrafted Amish goods from Christmas decorations to wooden sculptures to one-of-a-kind clothes. My mother, grandmother and aunt all thoroughly enjoyed these stops, especially, and our car sank lower and lower at each shopping destination. As we drove around Shipshewana, it became clear that bicycles and horse-drawn carts are the most popular methods of transportation for the Amish townspeople. Our car passed plenty of farmland in which candles adorned the windows and cars were nowhere in sight.

Finally, to round out the trip, we visited a bulk food store called E&S Sales. The store was stocked full of a wide selection of food from flour to candy to meat to freshly baked bread. All of the food is either specially prepared at the store itself or grown and packaged locally in Indiana. Because all of the food is packaged in bulk, the prices are all quite low compared to a neighborhood Marsh or Mariano’s. Much to my delight, I was able to purchase five-and-a-half pounds of pretzels for seven dollars.

The shelves of the E&S Sales store (photo credit Anders Rotto).
The shelves of the E&S Sales store (photo credit Anders Rotto).

The majority of the store’s associates are Amish and work at the store as families. Sometimes, two or even three generations of Amish families from Shipshewana will be employed by the store. With this many people from all around Shipshewana working in this store and the gift shops nearby, how do they get from their homes to their jobs? Certainly they cannot all be driving horse-drawn carts.

“No, I usually get picked up by a van with some other people, too,” said one of the store’s stock girls.

The teenage girl explained that the van has a driver who will go around and pick up numerous people in Shipshewana, including a few members of her own family who also work at the store. By doing this, the Amish townsfolk are able to still maintain their stance in reference to electronics, while not being forced to freeze in the frigid Indiana winters. Because modern innovations such as electricity or cars might cause competition or pride among people, the Amish tend to stay away from such things and focus their attention, instead, on God and families.

Not all of the members of the town were Amish. One teenage boy, whose family was not Amish, explained that his family had just moved from North Carolina a few months prior and was now working in E&S Sales alongside his Amish coworkers. When asked what the biggest difference between his old southern home and Shipshewana, he simply replied, “The cold.” Overall, besides the fact that the Amish stay away from electronic devices, there were not as many major distinctions between the two places as one might originally believe.

A bicycle and horse-drawn cart alongside a road in Shipshewana (photo credit Anders Rotto).
A bicycle and horse-drawn cart alongside a road in Shipshewana (photo credit Anders Rotto).

As we packed up and stuffed new food and decorations into the car, our family began the journey back to central Indiana with full stomachs and a new perspective on how to live life. Seeing people live without things that I take for granted everyday, such as electronics and cars, was a fascinating experience that has made an impact on me, even days after arriving back home. A focus on these themes are especially beneficial to remember during a period of time when Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals tend to overshadow what should be more important values of Thanksgiving– God and family.