Ever seen men with strangely shaped beards accompanied by bonnet-wearing women? These plain-clothed folks are the Amish- a group of Christians who have stuck to a very traditional lifestyle. They believe in a special form of baptism, which is different from most Christian traditions. What is the everyday life of this unique group like? Overall, the Amish have added flavor and diversity to the American landscape since their community arrived here in the 18th century. America’s tradition of religious tolerance has allowed for this interesting group to flourish to hundreds of thousands of members, and they are very much worth knowing more about.
Here’s an interesting little tidbit you might not have known about the Amish. Those who want to get married must choose another member of the church.
The lovebirds personally deliver invitations and the bride makes her own dress. Wedding rings are not used and honeymoons are spent visiting relatives.
(Don’t) Go For The Trim
Beards have a symbolic purpose in Amish communities. Men with beards are married, as they stop shaving after they get married. You’ll also notice that men do not have mustaches without beards in Amish communities.
Just as trimming beards is frowned upon by the Amish, women getting their hair cut is also an activity Amish people don’t take part in. So you won’t see any Amish people coming into barber shops and asking for a little off the top.
Amish people don’t talk like other people in secular America do. Instead, they speak their own language that is often referred to as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Some people refer to it as “Low German” or just “Amish,” as well. The Amish got this way of speaking through early German settlers who came to Pennsylvania.
While almost half of all the people in Pennsylvania spoke this way at one point, today it is a way of communication that is mostly reserved for the Amish.
A close-knit community with high standards of conduct and tradition always has a way of upholding its rules, and the Amish community is certainly no exception. In Amish communities, “meidung,” or “shunning,” is what happens when the community has decided that it will no longer tolerate the behavior or actions of an individual.
In the past, the sentence for meidung could include death, though now it tends to result in banishment or an appropriate punishment that shows repentance for one’s sins.
Anyone who has been to a Walmart has probably bumped into some Amish people and seen their particular sense of style. Amish people prefer to wear clothes that are simple and geared for function rather than style.
Amish people dress in a way that is designed to prevent vanity and a focus on exterior qualities. Modesty has always been a very important quality to the Amish, which is why they prefer darker colored clothes and avoid bright colors or jewelry.
Amish children typically learn in a style that is reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century American schools. They are in one-room schools with a mixture of ages all the way up to eighth grade.
There is no high school in Amish communities; once you graduate eighth grade, you are done for good. That is the time when men start to focus on learning the trade they will perform as part of the community, while women do the same.
Amish men and women are not baptized when they are babies, as is often done in many forms of Christianity. Instead, they are baptized between 18 and 22 years of age.
They don’t baptize themselves as part of an effort to secure their way to Heaven, but instead to show their dedication to live their lives according to God’s will. Regular church attendance is not a part of most Amish communities, as they instead choose to gather and worship in small groups at each others’ homes and other locations.
Although Amish communities are very different from secular communities, there are still some truths that are present no matter where you grow up. For instance, teenagers tend to be resistant to authority and rebellious.
To deal with this, some Amish communities allow for “Rumspringa,” or a limited time frame where young people are allowed to leave the community for a short time. In addition, punishments tend to be much more lenient for Amish teenagers who do not conduct themselves appropriately.
The Woman’s Church Dress
Amish men are expected to grow beards and shave their mustaches as part of Amish culture and traditions. For women, there are also specific requirements and expectations. Namely, Amish women are supposed to dress themselves in a very plain and modest way.
This even translates to weddings, where brides tend to wear modest colors, such as blue. Another difference from outside society is that wedding dresses don’t get filed away in a closet – women wear them each Sunday after they’re married.
Amish people own a lot of land and property. They often transfer this property to the next generation, just as is done in other cultures.
However, the oldest son doesn’t typically inherit property. Instead, the youngest son receives the property, since fathers typically aren’t ready to retire when their oldest sons reach maturity. Instead, older sons learn trades while the youngest are groomed to take over family properties and ultimately, to pass them on to the next generation one day.
Amish Gang Violence
Violence doesn’t happen often in Amish communities, but that doesn’t mean it never takes place. As a matter of fact, a number of Amish men were arrested in Ohio back in 2011 for a particularly heinous crime.
While the crime may not have been a big deal in the rest of America, in Amish communities it is quite breathtaking. The men in question entered the homes of rivals and shaved their beards! The act of degradation was led by Samuel Mullet, who ended up being jailed for the crime.
At first glance, these dolls may seem kind of strange or even creepy, but there’s actually a good reason that Amish kids play with dolls that don’t have faces.
The reason is that Amish children are taught that people should be judged for who they are on the inside rather than who they are on the outside. You’ll also notice that the dolls have the same modest style of dress that Amish people tend to wear.
No Photos Please
In the past, Amish people were very much against taking photos. Not only are photos representative of the technology that Amish people shun, but many were unnerved by the idea of being “captured” in a fixed image for eternity.
However, many Amish communities and individuals have evolved their thoughts to be more comfortable with having their pictures taken. Ultimately, since they don’t use cameras or cell phones themselves, photos aren’t a big part of their lives.
The Amish Computer
While Amish people have been extremely reluctant to adopt new technology, they occasionally do accept certain forms of technology into their communities. For example, these no-frills computers are used in some communities for functions such as accounting or word processing.
You’ll notice that the Deskmate computer is very basic. It doesn’t play games and you can’t watch videos on it. There’s no internet connection, either. It’s merely for business purposes, which is the only reason why some Amish people are okay with it being used.
Puppy mills are a part of many Amish communities. They are one way that Amish people make money, as they are excellent dog breeders.
However, these facilities are extremely controversial, as many point to the fact that there are thousands of unwanted pets already and that pets from city pounds should be adopted before those in puppy mills. Also, some believe that overbreeding often leads to poor living conditions for dogs in Amish puppy mills, such as being forced to spend long hours in cages.
Look, “Am” on TV!
Amish people may not watch TV, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t featured on television for the rest of us to observe. For years, Amish people have been represented (some would say misrepresented) on popular TV shows, including everything from 2 Broke Girls to The X-Files.
More recently, the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black even featured a main character who was raised in an Amish community. The character, Leanne, even speaks Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a nice nod to authenticity.
You may know that Amish people shun electricity, but do you know why? They believe that electricity has not helped the quality of people’s lives, but actually negatively impacted it. Also, they believe that using public utilities makes people more dependent on material things.
Therefore, any electrical appliances that they do use are subject to a lot of evaluation and scrutiny. Anything in Amish communities that can be done by hand instead of by machine is done using manual labor instead.
Many people assume that Amish folks don’t pay taxes. This is actually not true. However, while they pay taxes, they do not pay into social security. At the same time, they do not receive social security benefits when they reach retirement age.
In Amish communities, there is already a system in place for taking care of and providing for elders, so there is no need for a formal system such as social security. Amish people also don’t believe in commercial insurance.
To Play Or Not To Play?
You may wonder whether there is much room for self-expression in a community where individuality seems to be frowned upon. The truth is that most people in Amish communities do not play musical instruments.
This is because Amish leaders are concerned that instruments can lead to inflated egos or even the type of idol worship you see in pop culture, where great musicians are envied and even worshiped. Even Amish church songs often lack musical notes and include words only.
You probably won’t be surprised to read that Amish people view death a little differently than the rest of us. In Amish communities, a person’s death is mourned, but not dwelled upon like it may be in the rest of society. Amish people are quite stoic, after all.
After embalming, bodies are viewed by relatives and community members, all of whom take the opportunity to pay their final respects. Wedding dresses retain their special emphasis upon death, as women wear them for their burial.
So Many Rules!
Amish people are certainly more restricted when it comes to their behavior than people in other communities. While it may be hard for many of us to understand their customs, they make a lot of sense to those who were raised in the Amish tradition.
Gender roles are still very separated in Amish communities, for example. Not only do women avoid wearing jewelry or patterned clothing, but they also don’t become preachers or take on leadership positions in their communities.
Becoming Part Of The Clan
One doesn’t have to be born into an Amish community to become a part of it. Outsiders are allowed to join, but must go through quite a process first. Not the least of which is the fact that you must read, write, and speak the traditional language of Pennsylvania Dutch.
You would also have to live with a family and fully adopt to Amish customs before getting voted in. Of course, all of your worldly technology and modern customs must be left behind!
The Devil’s Playground
The teenage era is the one time of an Amish person’s life where they are permitted to stray from Amish customs with some lenience. If an Amish person is going to play in “The Devil’s Playground,” this would be the time. Some Amish teens even leave their communities and explore the world.
However, 90% ultimately ask to be confirmed by the church and become permanent community members. Afterward, they can still have fun in a number of activities, such as softball.
Clashes With Modernity
Unsurprisingly, Amish men and women are generally in compliance with state and federal laws. However, there are occasions where Amish people decide not to comply with outside laws for various reason, many of which tend to be rather silly.
For example, some Amish people in Kentucky refused to have their horses wear what are called “poop bags” to prevent them from excreting all over the ground when they travel. The community’s members argued in court that the rule prevents them from having freedom of religion.
Amish Vs. Mennonites
You may have assumed that Amish people and Mennonites are the same, but that is not the case at all. In fact, many Amish people would bristle at the idea that they are the same due to a number of very important differences in their religious doctrines.
They do share some similarities, however, including a tendency towards modest attire. They also both believe in the Protestant tradition of anabaptism, which means “to be baptized again.” Still, don’t call an Amish person a Mennonite!
Organic food may be the newest trend in the US and many other nations around the world, but Amish people have been eating organic since their communities first began. They grow and produce their own food.
Another reason that the Amish are generally very healthy (besides their active lifestyles and lack of TV) is that they avoid tobacco and alcohol. In some communities, the Amish influence has reached outside towns, such as the Indiana town of Shipshewana, which is alcohol-free.
It’s often said that Amish people are not fans of modern medicine, but this actually isn’t true at all. They don’t carry individual insurance policies, but they do go see the doctor if they have serious medical conditions. In fact, members will band together to pay for medical treatments when one community member is ill.
Of course, Amish diets and active lifestyles keep them very healthy in comparison to outside communities, which are often defined by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles.
One issue that is highly contentious that involves Amish communities is the idea that they have less people with autism than other communities. Anti-vaccination advocates have claimed that there is a link between the Amish avoiding vaccinations and lower autism rates, but many Amish people do in fact get vaccinations as part of their regular care.
In addition, Amish communities that have avoided vaccinations have been linked to measles outbreaks and other problems. This is an issue that continues to be debated to this day.
Modern Amish Family
Family is a very important part of the Amish lifestyle. Family life is guided by the principles of the traditional lifestyle of the Amish community. Each family is almost like its own little Amish community.
In fact, communities are often just collections of families that will even determine their own guidelines and rules. Some will even allow different clothing colors or modern attire such as baseball caps, believe it or not! Others are more in tune with traditional Amish rules.
Sleeping with another person is often seen as an intimate act, but that isn’t necessarily so in Amish traditions. Sometimes, a bundling bed is used to allow two people to share the same bed without the potential of actual contact between the two of them.
They each have their own blankets and in many cases, are separated by a board. This practice can actually save space and allows for people to share beds without having been married or compromising their values.
The phrase “Gottes Wille” is of particular importance to the Amish. The phrase translates to “God’s Will,” and is a very important expression of faith that guides a lot of Amish behaviors. For instance, “Gottes Wille” is justification for Amish traditions that do not include checks for genetic disorders that can arise during childbirth.
As a result of this refusal of genetic testing and a certain level of inbreeding in Amish communities, many genetic disorders are found in higher numbers in Amish society.
You probably wonder who was the first Amish person. Well, the person who is credited with officially creating the Amish lifestyle is a Swiss Anabaptist named Jakob Ammann. The reason Ammann stood out from many others is that he interpreted the Bible’s guidelines quite literally and seriously.
This is where many traditional Amish beliefs, such as not trimming one’s beard, comes from. Ammann also believed in shunning those who don’t follow the rules and traditions of the greater Amish community.
Where did the Amish come from? Many Amish people can be traced back to Europe. Back in the 18th century, young reformers from Switzerland came to North America in search of the same religious freedom that many immigrants were seeking.
They originally settled in Pennsylvania, which is where the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” comes from. Others immigrated in the 19th century and over time, they spread out from Pennsylvania to Ohio and other eastern states and eventually, through the Midwest as well.
Amish people do not believe in carrying commercial insurance policies. In addition, insurance is largely unnecessary to Amish folks, as they band together to help one another out in times of need. They also avoid accepting state or federal benefits of any time.
Everything is instead focused on getting help from within their communities. When needed, fundraisers are conducted or people simply pitch in to help their neighbors. This emphasis on community makes Amish people very tightly knit and close with one another.
So you want to be an Amish person? That’s fine, as we discussed earlier. However, you will first live within an Amish household. You can’t just move in and get your own place like you would in a one-bedroom apartment in the regular world.
After absorbing Amish customs and fully learning the dialect that they communicate with, your acceptance will be up to a vote of the community church. If you get the approval of the church, congratulations! You’re now a member of the community!
So what happens if you don’t follow the rules that the Amish have set for their communities? Generally, there can be different repercussions, but there is always one punishment that stands above all of the rest, which is excommunication. Those who are excommunicated are banished.
They no longer communicate with those in the community socially or even in business relations. However, some people have been excommunicated and accepted back in after seeking forgiveness and showing that they repent, although it’s not guaranteed that this will happen.
If you’ve gone shopping very often and you live in the Midwest or on the East Coast, you probably have seen Amish people in stores from time to time. The thing is, although Amish people tend to seek isolation from the outside world, they often do purchase items that can’t be produced within their own communities.
It can be jarring to witness Amish folks shopping in a Walmart, but imagine how it must be for them to enter the outside world and see people with cell phones.
Speaking Of Walmart
You may wonder why an Amish person would shop in a large chain store, such as Walmart, even if they did need goods from the outside world. Wouldn’t it be more likely for them to shop in small, independently owned stores?
Well, Amish people are very thrifty, so they are likely to shop where the prices are the best. Furthermore, many of them still don’t use cars, and if they do, they use them only sparingly. A large store with a wide variety of goods makes shopping much simpler for them.
Mandatory Secular Experiments
While not all Amish communities engage in this practice, many actually encourage or even force their youths to leave the community for a time when they come of age. During this time, they are encouraged to explore the outside world and see what it’s all about.
Then, they can truly make a decision about whether they would like to live the rest of their lives in their communities or whether they want to travel the world or be a part of secular society.
Amish people tend to have rather large families, in part because they don’t really believe in birth control and in part because large families provide them with the workforce that they need to be productive. This has actually led to Amish communities growing rapidly in size.
In fact, Amish people numbered 100,000 in the US in 1989 and have since grown to over 250,000. In addition, Amish people have continued to spread out and inhabit new areas across the nation.
Reality TV isn’t the best place to get your information, but there is so much interest in what goes on behind the scenes in Amish communities that reality shows were really inevitable.
For television networks, shows such as Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia are no-brainers, catering to the curiosity of viewers and perhaps the naivety of Amish people who don’t really watch a lot of TV themselves. Of course, there are those that suggest that a lot of what happens on these shows isn’t as real as it would seem…
All Just For Show
The controversial show Breaking Amish is evidence of this possibility. Many people were stunned to find that those on the show were often less conservative than they would have thought.
However, amid all of the controversy, rumors began to circulate that the cast had actually left the Amish community before taping began or worse yet, that the relationships that were shown on-screen were actually staged instead of being real. Do shows such as Breaking Amish actually give a real account?
Arrested Under Influence
One reason why the show Breaking Amish was so controversial is that the show shed a light on supposed substance abuse within the Amish community. In fact, cast member Kate was arrested for driving under the influence in 2012.
Her mug shot soon found its way around the internet, making many in the community even more embarrassed by the show. Amish people were angry by the impression the show made, since they are actually very much against all illegal substances.
No Education After 8th Grade
It’s a simple fact that Amish people don’t place the same emphasis on education as those in the outside world do. Well, that may not be true, but Amish people receive an education that has a lessened emphasis on classroom learning, which ends after eighth grade.
Instead, they focus on a trade or in the case of young women, learning how to run a household and raise a family. They simply don’t have a need for the type of education that many people around the world get in high school or college.
Sleeping Together Before Marriage
You probably would never guess that young couples are actually often allowed to sleep in the same bed before they get married in Amish communities.
But yes, you guessed it – there is quite a big “but” involved. You see, they have to sleep in a bundling bed, which places a wooden board between them to keep any kind of intimate relations from taking place. Oh, and they also sleep fully clothed, so there’s no use in peeking over the board, either!
A Large Population Means Large Houses
With growing Amish populations across the United States, it is important that Amish communities have a lot of housing availability. Instead of individual families taking up large houses with huge yards like so many in the U.S. do, Amish families bundle together in huge houses that minimize individual space in favor of economy.
The buildings are just like the clothes that Amish people wear, emphasizing functionality over style or appearance. You won’t find these homes in a fancy magazine, but they get the job done!
The life of an Amish woman is very traditional. Some would say that they lead rather boring lives, but Amish women enjoy participating in lives of service to others. They spend time tending to their homes, cooking meals, or even helping others with various tasks.
In addition, they leave a lot of the decision making to men or other community leaders, choosing not to question most decisions. Many Amish women live lives that aren’t much different from traditional “housewife” roles that were once common in the U.S.
The strength of the Amish community lies mostly in their ability to band together and work towards common goals, and the activity of barn raising is a huge part of that particular tradition.
When members of the community need living space or a barn is needed, they all join together to get the work done in a fast way that allows for positive results. Then, those that received the barn will join in for future community members who need the same thing.
Don’t Take Me To Church
While Amish people are very religious and faith is quite important to them, they don’t attend traditional church services, as we discussed earlier. While services are held in community homes, this doesn’t mean that they lack structure or formality.
In fact, they closely mirror traditional church services, with hymns, scripture readings, and sermons delivered by a preacher. Social gatherings and lunches often follow weekly church services. Faith almost always plays a very central role in Amish communities throughout the United States.
Weddings On Thursdays
If you’re going to get married, it’s probably going to happen on a Thursday if you’re Amish. This isn’t for any religious reasons. It’s actually because holding weddings on Thursdays allows for clean up of community areas used for weddings.
If weddings were held on Saturdays, Sundays would be needed to clean up, and no work is done on Sundays in Amish communities. Sometimes, Amish weddings are held on Tuesdays for the same reason, although Thursdays are a more common day.
We discussed earlier the fact that Amish people tend to stay in compliance with the law. However, you’ll find bad people in any community, and the Amish are no different. In 1999, a pair of Amish men were arrested after selling over $100,000 of illegal substances in a six-year period.
The criminals were a part of a substance ring that was mostly concentrated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Even more shamefully, they spend most of their time selling substances to Amish youth, corrupting their own communities in the process.
A Peaceful Community (For The Most Part)
It is often said that only one homicide has taken place in Amish communities in the U.S. Still, you’ll often hear of some crimes that happen in various Amish communities. For instance, did you know that you could be arrested for drunk driving even if you’re driving a horse-powered buggy?
These and other relatively minor crimes sometimes lead to community members having to serve jail time. While some are able to be accepted back into their communities after serving their time, others never do return.
Keeping Church And State Separate
You may be surprised to know that Amish people are actually in favor of the separation between church and state. However, this actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it, since Amish people pay taxes to the federal government and respect police and other officials even though they don’t participate in outside society very often.
Indeed, Amish people believe in respecting authorities due to their religious beliefs, although if push comes to shove, they will always defer to their faith.
MAP – Mission To Amish People
Occasionally, Amish people decide that they want to spread their wings and leave their communities for good. Organizations exist for those Amish people who do want to transition into lives outside of the Amish world.
This is necessary because many Amish youths have not received the education or experience with technology that they would have had in secular society. MPA is one organization that offers such services, and the help they offer includes housing, counseling, and much more.
Amish Aren’t Arrogant
While there is often a perception that people who are highly religious are judgmental or preachy, these things generally aren’t true of Amish people. Amish folks generally are not very evangelical and won’t try to convince you to believe what they believe.
They are also taught to reject any kind of pride or arrogance, so they actively avoid judging others. Demut, which means humility, and Gelassenheit, which means composure, are very important terms for Amish people who want to conduct themselves properly.
While Amish people are willing to pay taxes and obey the law, they do not engage in outside society more than they have to. That means that Amish adults don’t join the military. They also don’t sue one another or people outside of their community.
Even police service wouldn’t work for Amish people, who are taught to avoid any type of physical violence, even if it would be justified under the law. Amish people take the doctrine of “turning the other cheek” quite seriously.
A Devoted Community
Just as Amish people shun the idea of wearing fancy clothes or jewelry, they also avoid having fancy buildings that have ornamental touches. The lack of a dedicated church building means you won’t find stained glass windows or towering religious displays in Amish settlements.
This jives perfectly with the ideas of modesty and humility that govern so much of Amish life. Amish people don’t have time for any kind of arrogance, even in the form of impressive looking buildings or architecture.
The “Ordnung” order is comprised of the rules which Amish people comply with in daily life. These rules are sometimes laid out in writing for community members and other times are passed on verbally and understood that way.
In addition, what is allowed under Ordnung in one community may not be okay in another, since communities often vary and accept different things than others do. One thing that does not vary is that community members avoid violating the rules whenever they can.