One of our other excursions for this recent trip was to visit the Amish Country in Lancaster County, PA. The Amish are an interesting group of people. Everyone has heard of them, but most people, myself included, don’t really know that much about them. The tour that we took showed us the Amish way of life. It included a working Amish farm, a guided bus tour through Amish country, visits to their local businesses and a tour of a typical Amish house. It was all very interesting and informative.
The Amish are not a single unit. There are four main groups — the Old Order, the New Order, the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites — with many subgroups and different rules within these categories. For instance, the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites often drive cars and use electricity while the others use horse-drawn buggies.
An Amish house
Amish roots stretch back to the time of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. Their religious ancestors were called Anabaptists (rebaptizers) because they baptized adults who had previously been baptized as infants in a Catholic or Protestant church. Members of this conservative Christian faith came to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century to escape persecution in Europe for their Anabaptist beliefs. The Pennsylvania Amish community in Lancaster County is the oldest and largest Amish community in the United States, numbering about 43,000. While most Amish and Old Order Mennonites are of Swiss ancestry, nearly all speak Pennsylvania Dutch, an American language that developed in rural areas of southeastern and central Pennsylvania during the 18th century. The people are NOT Dutch, and the term Dutch is a slang for Deutsch or German. The largest Amish populations are in PA, but you can also find them scattered about other parts of the country too. The Amish are now found in about 30 states as well as parts of Canada. There are roughly 300,000 Amish located in these parts of the world today.
They do not attend a physical structured church, but gather in peoples’ homes instead, separating the men and the women. The sermons and hymns are all in high German. This is one of the prayer rooms, and then another would be located in either another room, or in a separate area of one very large room. One is for the men and one is for the women. They gather in small groups of 20-30 families (however, each family can be quite large) and they rotate services every couple of weeks to another home.
The Amish farms and homes are intermixed with “The English” homes and farms. “English” refers to anyone who is not Amish. A few ways to determine an Amish home is by the septic tanks located on the properties, the dark, plain clothes hung up high on the clothesline and the windmills. And usually they have large farms as well.
They are almost completely self-sufficient and make or produce almost everything on their farms or within their communities. Barn building and home building are big social events where everyone joins in together. They build the barns first, then build their homes.
The clothing of the females, both young and any woman under the age of 35.
And for the older women, it is almost always all black.
For the males, it is almost always black. Zippers and buttons are not allowed on any of the clothing for anyone. Head coverings for both men and women are a must.
The straw hats are the working hats of the men and the black hats are more for social gatherings. The women wear the white caps.
Because the population is growing and homes and land are scarce, they often either acquire the “English” homes and add onto them, or will rent out space to the “English” and will cohabitate together on the property.
The main beliefs of the Amish are faith, family, community, and living a simple and modest life. The Amish live out their own religious beliefs and lead a unique life in their own spiritual way. They are hard working farmers and small business owners. They do most everything without the help of modern technology or conveniences or electricity, though they now use batteries for a lot of their energy needs. Amish life is governed by the “Ordnung,” a German word for order. The rules vary from community to community. The Amish, for example, may shun members of their order who repeatedly ignore the beliefs and rules of Amish society. According to the Young Center, “Most Amish groups forbid owning automobiles, tapping electricity from public utility lines, using self-propelled farm machinery, owning a television, radio, and computer, attending high school and college, joining the military, and initiating divorce.” Though there are some conflicting ideas that are currently around. They keep everything very plain and simple, with very little decorations or adornments.
Instead of indoor plumbing and toilets, they use outhouses. They then dip out their waste by bucket, treat it with lime, mix it with animal manure and spread on their farm.
The lime house.
According to the Young Center, the Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but believe that it has the potential to bring about assimilation into the surrounding society. “Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture,” says an article on the Young Center’s website. “By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.” Some of the rules are seemingly contradictory — for instance, 12-volt car batteries are permitted by many communities while 120-volt electricity is not. In addition, most Amish are not permitted to drive motor vehicles but are allowed to hire outsiders — known as “English” — to drive them. However, this is still their primary mode of transportation, though you can also find them on scooterbikes as well.
This was a BIG contradiction to me. At the end of our tour, we decided on a quick lunch at Costco, and we saw some Amish ladies with their carts piled high, shopping at Costco. From the looks of it, their carts were filled with modern junk foods too. HMMMMM!
Photographs up close are NOT allowed, but you can photograph people from a distance, when they are working or engaged in activities. The Amish considerate it a violation of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images.” They believe any physical representation of themselves (whether a photograph, a painting, or film) promotes individualism and vanity, taking away from the values of community and humility by which they govern their lives. Photos are banned because they might cultivate personal vanity, which runs against the church’s prohibition of “hochmut,” a word meaning pride, arrogance and/or haughtiness.
Amish children typically only attend school through eighth grade, mostly at private schools, but about 10% are in public schools, according to the Young Center. Their right to end school at age 14 was confirmed by a 1972 ruling of the United States Supreme Court. Instruction is in both English and their German dialect. The Amish children who do not attend public schools are often taught in one-room schools.
At recess, the boys and girls all play together.
One modern Amish student for the day. I think he was leaning German, which is appropriate, since Larry is German.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of Amish social life is “rumspringa,” which means “running around” in the Pennsylvania German dialect. According to the Young Center, it is the time, beginning at about age 16, when youth socialize with their friends on weekends. Rumspringa usually lasts for about 2 years. Amish youth are no longer under the total control of their parents on weekends and, because they are not baptized, they are not yet under the authority of the church. Rumspringa ends with marriage. Apart from introducing young men and women to one another, this period is an important time when Amish youth need to decide if they will be baptized and join the church, which usually occurs between 18 and 21, or leave the Amish community. At first glance, rumspringa appears as a stain on Amish culture. The Amish, however, feel as though this fling with worldliness gives them the strength to come back to the Amish religion and be strong standing members. It is believed that ninety percent of the Amish youth will return to the Amish Church.
Dating among the Amish typically begins around age 16 with most Amish couples marrying between the ages of 20 and 22. To find a prospective date, the young adults socialize at functions such as frolics, church, or home visits.
And so concludes the adventures from our latest vacation, to Virginia, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. We did a lot and had a fabulous time. We learned so many new things and had many adventures. Vacations are always fun, but it is always good to come home again too. I hope you have all enjoyed my latest vacation series.
So now, it is back to Jeanne in her kitchen and life here at home. As always, stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.