The Amish Way of Life and Culture - Everything you Wanted to Know!

The Amish way of life and culture explained. Read about their way of life regarding their funerals, weddings, schools, traditions and life in general.

Mennonite 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".

An Amish husband and wife plowing with 2 horses

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.

These 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 their top priorities, second only to God. The Amish people are very devout in their faith. They believe in the 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 different 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 lifestyle and their families can best be maintained in a rural environment.

While 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 world.

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 thriving. 

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 barn-raisings are a good example. Neighbors freely give of their time and their skills to help one another.         

They are generally private 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 their strong 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 floor).

These dresses are covered with a cape and apron and are fastened with straight pins or snaps. The women never cut their hair, which 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 they are single. Women do not wear jewelry.

Amish clothing 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.

Men's shirts are fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests fasten 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 not a 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 Lancaster:

"Why don't the Amish use electricity?"

"Amish people interpret linking with 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."

"Why do Amish men have beards, but not mustaches?"

"There are quite a few scripture that 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."

"Do the Amish pay taxes?"

"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 Security 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. 

They have a 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 needed."

"What crops are grown on an Amish farm?"

"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)."

"What 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."

"Why are all the buggies black?"

"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 buggies.

Here in Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish drive gray buggies and the Old Order Mennonites drive black buggies."

"How does a barn-raising work?"

Amish 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 areas of work. Often the framing is completed before the noon meal and in the afternoon the roofing is installed.

              An Amish Barn Raising

Meanwhile 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."

"What language do the Amish speak?"

"In their homes and in conversations 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 schools."

"Why do Amish men wear black hats?"

"Here in Lancaster County, the 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."

"Do Amish families play games?"

"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 early."

"Do the Amish still milk their 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 the child."

"What holidays do they celebrate and why?"

"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."

"Do the Amish use modern medicine and doctors?"

"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.

They do believe, however, that good health, both physical and mental, is a gift from God and requires careful stewardship on the part of the individual.

With few exceptions, physicians rate the Amish people as desirable 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."

"Do Amish women still use midwives for childbirth?"

"Some of the women go to "English" 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."

"What are common Amish names?"

"According to John A. Hostetler, author of Amish Society, the most common family names in Lancaster county are: Stoltzfus, King, Fisher, Beiler, and Lapp.

The most common first names for males are: John, Amos, Samuel, Daniel, and David.

The most common first names for females are: Mary, Rebecca, Sarah, Katie, and Annie."

"What are the differences between Amish and Mennonite groups?"

"It is impossible to answer this 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 practice.

The differences among the various Amish and Mennonite groups through the years have almost always been ones of practice rather than basic Christian doctrine."

"What happens at an Amish funeral?"

"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.

The grave 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."

(See Amish Funerals for more details.)

"Is it true that dolls for girls have no faces?"

"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."

"I 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 years ago 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 today.

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 on purpose."

THE AMISH DAILY LIFE:

"Do the Amish play any form of musical instrument?"

"No. Musical instruments are forbidden 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."

"I know that the Amish don't own 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?"

"Maintaining Amish standards, but 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.

One of 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, for then things will surely get out of control."

"Do the Amish believe in gas power?"

"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 and.shops."

"Is it true the Amish are exempt from Medicare and Medicaid withholding? What legal basis is used for this?"

"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 not needed.

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.

They 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."

Source: Trucking Life:Peoples of America by Lyndon Lomanovskis Raymond.

If you enjoyed reading this article on the Amish way of life, you may also like to try a genuine Amish friendship bread recipe. We also have a wealth of Amish Recipes for you to try out. Enjoy!


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Videos of the Amish People and Way of Life

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 they are 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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