The Amish Way of Life
and Culture - Everything you Wanted to Know!
The Amish way of life
explained. Read about their way of life
regarding their funerals,
weddings, schools, traditions and life
People, as they are also known as, for many,
are an enigma. For the majority it's a community that appears to be
closed. If, however, you visit Lancaster County, you will soon become
accustomed to seeing their black buggies in town, or have a chance to
buy wonderful quilts and other
products. Read this article
that gives you a deeper understanding of their society, culture and
their way of life.
"The farmlands of the Pennsylvania
Dutch Country are among the most productive in the nation. But many of
the farmers here are different from most Americans; different by
choice. For these are the Old Order Amish
and Mennonites, also known as
the "Plain People".
Amish Religion and Religious Beliefs
The Amish have been employing
horse-drawn power since the days when horsepower had a whole different
meaning! In comparison to our fast-paced society, the simpler,
family-centered way of life holds a special fascination.
people trace their heritage back hundreds of years, and yet, despite
all the time that has passed and the many changes that have taken place
in society, they still live and work much as their forefathers did.
Their families and their farms are
priorities, second only to
God. The Amish people are very devout in their faith. They believe in
literal interpretation and application of Scripture as the Word of God.
They take seriously the Biblical commands to separate themselves from
the things of the world. They believe worldliness can keep them from
being close to God, and can introduce influences that could be
destructive to their communities and to their way of life.
Amish Beliefs about Modern Conveniences
Today there are over 25
Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren church groups in Lancaster County, all
holding to slightly different traditions and their own interpretations
of the Bible.
The more traditional groups are called
'old order'. They
do not permit electricity or telephones in their homes. By restricting
access to television, radio, and telephones, the Amish are better able
to keep the modern world from intruding into their home life. These
people have long preferred farming as a way of life. They feel their
and their families can best be maintained in a rural environment.
they do not permit the use of tractors in their fields, these old order
Amish groups do use modern farm equipment pulled by teams of horses or
mules.These old order groups do not own or operate automobiles,
believing that cars would provide easier access to the ways of the
You will often see their horses and
buggies on our local roads.These traditional groups wear plain clothing
styles, which has earned them the name "Plain People".
It is the
simple, peaceful lifestyle of these plain people that attracts such a
curiosity today. Many wonder how these people can survive in their
supposedly backward ways. Well, they're not only surviving - they're
Since 1960, the Amish population in
Lancaster County has
almost tripled. Their separation from the rest of society and their way
of life actually helps to strengthen their community.
Amish Schools and Education
Amish children attend one-room
schoolhouses through the eighth grade. Worship services are held
every other week in one of the member's homes. Socializing is an
important part of their life. They have a strong sense of
community spirit, and often come to the aid of those in need. Their
are a good example. Neighbors freely give of their time
and their skills to help one another.
They are generally
people and often find all the attention and curiosity about their
lifestyle disturbing. They believe that the taking of photographs where
someone is recognizable is forbidden by the Biblical prohibition
against making any 'graven image'.
Please respect their desire for
privacy when visiting here. With our society's current interest in
restoring 'family values',
much can be learned from studying the way of life. Their
devotion to family and community and
work ethic are good examples for our larger society.
Amish Clothing and Dress
Old Order women
and girls wear modest dresses made from solid-colored fabric with long
sleeves and a full skirt (not shorter than half-way between knee and
These dresses are covered with a cape
and apron and are
fastened with straight pins or snaps. The women never cut their hair,
they wear in a bun on the back of the head.
On their heads they wear a
white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if
single. Women do not wear jewelry.
The men and boys wear
dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats without
lapels, broadfall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black
socks and shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats.
are fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests
with hooks and eyes. They do not have mustaches, but they grow beards
after they marry.
They feel these distinctive clothes encourage
humility and separation from the world. Amish clothing is
costume; it is an expression of their faith.
THE AMISH WAY OF
LIFE and CULTURE: FAQ
The following answers to questions we
received as part of our "Ask the Amish" feature were given by the
resident experts at the Mennonite Information Center in
"Why don't the Amish
"Amish people interpret
electrical wires as a connection with the world - and the Bible tells
them they are not to be "conformed to the world." (Romans 12:2) In 1919
their leaders agreed that connecting to power lines would not be in
the best interest of the Amish community.
They did not make this
decision because they thought electricity was evil in itself, but
because easy access to it could lead to many temptations and the
deterioration of church and family life.
Most of us today would think it
impossible to live without the modern conveniences such as electricity
and cars. What makes the Old Order Amish unique is not that they get
along without modernity, but that they choose to do without it when it
would be readily available.
They value simplicity and self-denial
over comfort, convenience and leisure. Their lifestyle is a deliberate
way of separating from the world and maintaining self-sufficiency. Thet
are less threatened by power shortages caused by storm,
disaster, or war.) As a result there is a bonding that unites their
community and protects it from outside influences such as television,
radios, and other influences."
do Amish men have
but not mustaches?"
"There are quite a few
mention beards in the Bible. An example would be Psalm 133:1,2. An
Amish man does not shave his beard after he becomes married; a long
beard is the mark of an adult. Mustaches, on the other hand,
have a long history of being associated with the military, and
therefore are forbidden among these people."
the Amish pay
"Self-employed Amish do
not pay Social
Security tax. Those employed by non-Amish employers do pay Social
Security tax. They do pay real estate, state and federal income
taxes, county taxes, sales tax, etc.
They do not collect Social
benefits, nor would they collect unemployment or welfare funds. Self
sufficiency is the Amish
community's answer to government aid programs. Section 310 of the
Medicare section of the Social Security act has a sub-section that
permits individuals to apply for exemption from the self-employment tax
if he is a member of a religious body that is conscientiously opposed
to social security benefits but that makes reasonable provision of
taking care of their own elderly or dependent members.
long history of taking care of their own members. They do not have
retirement communities or nursing homes; in most cases, each family
takes care of their own, and the Amish community gives assistance as
crops are grown on an
"Main crops in
Lancaster County, in order of acreage, are corn, hay, wheat, tobacco,
soybeans, barley, potatoes,
and other vegetables.
Farmers also grow
various grasses for grazing. Corn, grain, and hay crops usually stay on
the farm for feeding livestock. Tobacco, potatoes, some grain and hay
plus vegetables are raised for marketing. Farming is done with
horse-drawn equipment with metal wheels (no rubber tires)."
do the Amish think of
tourists visiting their area?"
"Amish people want
nothing more than to
simply be left alone. However, for the most part they have accepted the
influx of tourism as something they cannot change. So far as their
lifestyle, tourists have not changed the Amish. It is true that some
have moved away, partly because of tourism, but also because of the
high cost of land in Lancaster County. Others have opened small shops
and are now realizing profits from the tourists."
are all the buggies
"Throughout the United
States and in
Canada not all buggies are black. The similarity of their carriages in
any given area allows little for status, but speaks of all being equal.
Therefore, members of a particular group can be identified by the
buggies they drive.
In Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, for example, there
are five distinct groups of Old Order Amish living in the
Kishacoquillas Valley. The two most conservative groups drive
white-topped buggies, another has yellow tops, and two others use black
Here in Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish drive gray
buggies and the Old Order Mennonites drive black buggies."
does a barn-raising
"A barn-raising is
indeed a community
endeavor for the Amish. At daybreak, the buggies arrive at the farm
where the barn is to be erected.
Then, an experienced Amish
carpenter/contractor is put in charge and men are assigned to various
of work. Often the framing is completed before the noon meal and in the
afternoon the roofing is installed.
An Amish Barn
the women are preparing a
delicious noon meal, sometimes served outdoors. There is always prayer
before a meal is served. The children play games and are available to
run errands. But they also have a most exciting day as spectators at a
truly amazing project of brotherly love---building a barn in one day."
language do the Amish
"In their homes and in
with each other, the Old Order speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is
a dialect of German. We understand that it is similar to "Platt" that
is spoken in parts of northern Germany. When children go to school they
learn English. In their worship services the sermons are given in
German. The German language, "Deitch", is also taught in their
do Amish men wear black
"Here in Lancaster
men wear broad-brimmed hats of black felt. The width of the brim and
hat band and the height and shape of the crown are variables which
gauge the orthodoxy of the group and individual wearer. A wide brim,
low crown, and narrow hat band denotes the oldest and most traditional
style. Within church groups, one's age and status is often reflected by
the dimensions of one's hat. For warm weather, straw hats are preferred
by plain men."
Amish families play
"Yes, the families do
play games and
read together in the evenings. Parents are involved in their children's
activities. However, there are not long evenings in an Amish family.
When the children get home from school, there are chores that must be
done. At an early age, children have responsibilities assigned to them.
After the evening meal, the school homework must be tackled, and before
long it is bedtime. They are early risers and therefore go to bed
the Amish still milk
cows by hand?"
"Very few Amish people,
if any, do
their milking by hand. Today they have
modern milking equipment - not electric, but operated by alternate
sources of power. In order to ship milk, they must have modern
refrigerated milk tanks. They also have modern barn-cleaning equipment.
Children get involved in daily chores at a very early age - even
before they start school. However, the chores are suited to the age of
holidays do they
"Holidays observed by
the Amish are the
religious holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter,
Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Whit Monday (the day after pentecost).
The reasons for these observances are to fast and meditate on
scriptures related to these days.
We should also mention that December
25 is a solemn celebration of Christ's birth and "second Christmas" on
December 26 is a time for visiting and family dinners."
the Amish use modern
"Most Amish and
Mennonite groups to not
oppose modern medicine. Their readiness to seek health services varies
from family to family. Nothing in the their understanding of the Bible
forbids them from using modern medical services, including surgery,
hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, blood transfusions, etc.
do believe, however, that good health, both physical and mental, is a
gift from God and requires careful stewardship on the part of the
With few exceptions, physicians rate the Amish people as
patients: they are stable, appreciative, and their bills will be paid.
They do not have hospitalization insurance, but they band together to
help pay medical expenses for anyone of their group who needs financial
assistance. A designated leader in their community is given
responsibility for their mutual aid fund."
Amish women still use
midwives for childbirth?"
"Some of the women go to
doctors and have their babies in local hospitals; others go to birthing
centers; and some choose to have midwives who will deliver the babies
at home. It is a matter of preference. We do not have statistics as to
how many midwives are in Lancaster County."
are common Amish names?"
"According to John A.
of Amish Society, the most common family names in
Lancaster county are: Stoltzfus, King, Fisher, Beiler, and Lapp.
most common first names for males are: John, Amos, Samuel, Daniel, and
The most common first names for females are: Mary, Rebecca,
Sarah, Katie, and Annie."
are the differences
Amish and Mennonite groups?"
"It is impossible to
question with a few simple sentences. There are so many varieties of
Mennonites and Amish around the world that we cannot cover the many
shades of belief and practice among them. It is true that most
Mennonite and Amish groups have common historical roots.
Both were part
of the early Anabaptist movement in Europe, which took place at the
time of the Reformation. A group led by Jacob Amman broke from the
Mennonites in 1693 and became known as "Amish."
Amish and Mennonites
are Christian fellowships; they stress that belief must result in
The differences among the various Amish and Mennonite groups
through the years have almost always been ones of practice rather than
basic Christian doctrine."
happens at an Amish
"Here in Lancaster
County, funeral and
burial usually takes place three days after death. A funeral director
from the local area assists in a minimal way, which usually includes
embalming, and sometimes includes supplying the coffin and the hearse.
In death, as in life the simplicity is evident. A plain wooden coffin
is built. Often it is six-sided with a split lie - the upper part is
hinged so it can be opened for viewing the body. It is very simple - no
ornate carving or fine fabrics.
Traditionally a woman will wear the
white apron she wore on her wedding day. In some Amish communities both
men and women wear white for burial. The tone of the two-hour funeral
service is hopeful, yet full of admonition for the living.
There are no eulogies. Respect for the deceased is expressed, but not
praise. A hymn is spoken but not sung. There are no flowers.
is hand dug in an Amish church district cemetery. There will be only a
simple tombstone to mark the spot, much like all the other tombstones
in the cemetery - in death as in life, we are all equal and do not
elevate one person above another."
"Our understanding is
that years ago,
most of the dolls for little girls were rag dolls without faces. The
Amish have retained this custom. We believe the reason is similar to
the refusal to have pictures of people and is linked to the second
commandment. (Exodus 20:4-6) At an early age children are learning not
to have images, likenesses, idols."
have heard the Amish will
place a small mistake or imperfection in a quilt or other handmade
item. Why is this done?"
"We've heard that many
sometimes a scrap of fabric that didn't quite match was used
inconspicuously in a patchwork quilt to give it "identity." We question
whether this is true. We don't know of any quilters who would do that
Amish quilts are all band quilted; stitches are very small and
uniform. But, no matter how hard one tries, the stitches are not all
identical and perfect. A quilt may have an imperfection, but it wasn't
THE AMISH WAY OF
the Amish play any form
"No. Musical instruments
by the Old 0lder community. Playing an instrument would be
"worldly." It is contrary to the spirit of "Glassenheit" (humility),
and would stir up the emotions of those who are involved."
know that the Amish don't
automobiles, but in our area it is common to see them riding in other
peoples' vehicles. Some even have made a business of offering rides,
for a fee, to them. If they don't believe in owning automobiles,
it seems strange that they would ride in them. Seems inconsistent to
me. Why is this?"
accepting some modernization to meet needs of living, requires
compromise that must not disrupt the social structure. By rejecting
certain types of modernity and accepting others, some appear to the
outside world to be contradicting themselves - hypocrites. However,
from the viewpoint of their culture, there is no contradiction.
the more pronounced inconsistencies is the use of an
automobile...although he may not own a car, a member may accept rides
and willingly hires an automobile with a driver to transport him from
place to place.
There was little hesitation when the Amish decided "no"
to car ownership. It would separate the community in various ways. If
only wealthy members could afford it, the car would bring inequality.
Proud individuals would use it to show off their status, power and
wealth. Cars would speed things up dramatically, disrupting the slow
pace of their way of living. So, they will use them but not own them,
things will surely get out of control."
the Amish believe in gas
"Yes, they use gas.
Bottled gas is used
to operate water heaters, modern stoves and refrigerators.
Gas-pressured lanterns and lamps are used to light homes, barns
it true the Amish are
from Medicare and Medicaid withholding? What legal basis is used for
"Medicare and Medicaid
are a part of
the Social Security system. They believe that if the church is faithful
to its calling, many government programs and commercial insurance are
That conviction forced them to testify before Congress
because they did not want to receive Social Security benefits. What
they wanted instead was the right to look after their own elderly.
were finally given approval, if self-employed, to be exempt from paying
the tax. Seldom do Old Order Amish individuals accept Social Security,
Medicare, or Medicaid."
Not far from the hustle and bustle of
city life live the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These
deeply religious people shun the conveniences of modern society to live
a simpler life where transportation is a horse and buggy and horsepower
really means horsepower.
Their way of life is simplistic and
very devout. They take the biblical commands seriously to separate
themselves from the things
of the world including electricity. Power comes from propane, kerosene,
wood, coal, or natural gas.
But many traditions remain. Their
children attend one-room schoolhouses through grade eight and farming
is the mainstay of life. There are normally two horses on a farm
for buggies. Several mules are kept for farming. Milking is one of the
most important sources of income on the farm.
Many of their leaders believe their
separation from the outside world strengthens their community.
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