Amish way of life

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Amish families and communities maintain a more primitive lifestyle than the surrounding culture. Amish believe large families are a blessing from God. Amish rules allow marrying only between members of the Amish Church. The elderly do not go to a retirement facility; they remain at home.

Family and personal life[edit]

Amish man working in southeast Ohio.
Amish children playing baseball, Lyndonville, New York.

Having children, raising them, and socialization with neighbors and relatives are the greatest functions of the Amish family. Amish believe large families are a blessing from God.[1] The main purposes of "family" can be illustrated within the Amish culture in a variety of ways. The family has authority over the individual throughout life. Loyalties to parents, grandparents, and other relatives may change over time but they will never cease. A church district is measured by the number of families (households), rather than by the number of baptized persons.[2] Families take turns hosting the biweekly preaching service. Parents stress their responsibilities and obligations for the correct nurture of their children. They consider themselves accountable to the Lord for the spiritual welfare of their children.

The family provides the member with a status within the home and within the community. A person is more a member of the family, rather than an individual. Each member has a job, a position, a responsibility, and a status. Females have different chores from the males, with chores within the home normally divided by gender. The Amish traditional family provides much of the education for the child. Although the formal education ends after they finish eighth grade, the boy or girl is trained for their adult tasks. The boys will work with the father in the fields, in the barn, and around the buildings. The girls work inside the home and garden, alongside the mother. The home and family become the school for "on the job" training. Amish youth, by and large, see their parents working hard, and they want to help. They want to learn and to be a productive part of the family.[3]

Sports and recreation are shared by all members of the family. There are church outings and family meetings where activities are entered into and shared by all.

Child discipline[edit]

The Amish stress strict obedience in their children, and this is taught and enforced by parents and preachers. Several passages in the Bible are used to support this view. Their children, as with all children, may resist a parent's request. However, things such as tantrums, making faces, calling other bad names, and general disobedience are rare because the children are raised to comply with strict social codes. Any youthful dissatisfactions are usually verbally expressed, but profanity is never allowed because the guilty child can expect swift punishment.[4]

Youth and courtship[edit]

Rumspringa (Pennsylvania German lit. "running around") is the period of adolescence that begins the time of serious courtship. As in non-Amish families, it is understood that there will likely be a certain amount of misbehavior, but it is neither encouraged nor overlooked. At the end of this period, Amish young adults are baptized into the church and usually marry, with marriage permitted only among church members. A small percentage of the young people choose not to join the church, deciding to live the rest of their lives in wider society and marry someone outside the community.[5]

The age for courting begins at sixteen (in some communities, the girl could be as young as fourteen). The most common event for the boy-girl association is the fortnightly Sunday evening sing; however, the youth use sewing bees, frolics, and weddings for other opportunities. The sing is often in the same house or barn as the Sunday morning service. Teens may arrive from several close-by districts, thus providing socialization on a wider scale than from a single church.[5]

On the day of the sing, and after the chores are over, the young man dresses in his for-gut clothes, makes his appearance neat, and ensures his buggy and horse are clean. A sister or sister's friend may ride with him, but usually not his girlfriend. At the sing, boys are on one side of a long table, the girls on the other side. Each person is able to announce his or her choice of a hymn, and only the faster ones are chosen. A conversation takes place between songs. The formal end of the sing is at about ten o'clock, after which there is a great deal of talking, joking, and visiting. The boys who do not have a girlfriend may pair up with a Maidel (girl).[5] Following this, the boy takes the girl home in his open-topped courting buggy.

Marrying a first cousin is not allowed among the Amish, and second-cousin relationships are frowned upon, though they may occur. Marriage to a "Schwartz" cousin (the first cousin once removed) is not permitted in Lancaster County.

kraybill(2001) p.88.


Weddings are typically held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in November to early December, after the harvest.[6] The bride wears a new blue linen dress that will be worn again on other formal occasions. She wears no makeup and will not receive an engagement or wedding ring because the Ordnung prohibits personal jewelry.

The marriage ceremony itself may take several hours, followed by a community reception that includes a banquet, singing, and storytelling. Newlyweds spend the wedding night at the home of the bride's parents.

Celery is one of the symbolic foods served at Amish weddings[7]. Celery is also placed in vases and used to decorate the house instead of flowers. Rather than immediately taking up housekeeping, the newlywed couple will spend several weekends visiting the homes of friends and relatives who attended the wedding.


When the Amish choose to retire is neither a set nor fixed time. Considerations of the person's health, the family's needs, and personal desires all play an important part in determining when retirement may occur, usually between the ages of fifty and seventy. The elderly do not go to a retirement facility; they remain at home. If the family house is large enough they continue living with everyone else. Often there is an adjacent dwelling, called the Grossdaadi Haus, where grandparents take up residence. Retired people continue to help with work on the farm and within the home, working at their own pace as they are able. This allows them independence but does not strip them of family involvement.

The Amish method of retirement ensures that the elderly maintain contact with family and relatives. Loneliness is not a problem because they keep meaningful social contacts through various community events, such as frolics, auctions, weddings, holiday, and other community activities.[8]

If the aged become ill or infirm, then the women of the family take up caring for them.

Lifestyle and culture[edit]

Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung (German, meaning: order), which differs slightly from community to community, and, within a community, from district to district (there are over 25 different Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren church groups in Lancaster County[9]). What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another. No summary of Amish lifestyle and culture can be totally adequate because there are few generalities that are true for all Amish. Groups may separate over matters such as the width of a hat-brim, the color of buggies, or various other issues. The use of tobacco (excluding cigarettes, which are considered "worldly") and moderate use of alcohol[10] are generally permitted, particularly among older and more conservative groups.


In addition to English, most Old Order Amish speak a distinctive German dialect called Pennsylvania German or, much more commonly, Pennsylvania Dutch. Pennsylvania German is related to the Palatinate German of the 18th century. It has also been strongly influenced by American English.[11] The English term "Dutch" originally referred to all forms of German and Netherlandic languages. Pennsylvania German, which is a High German dialect, is distinct from Mennonite Low German and Hutterite German dialects spoken by other Anabaptist groups.

Now spoken primarily by the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites, Pennsylvania German was originally spoken by many German-American immigrants in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, especially those who came prior to 1800. There are also several sizable Old Order Amish communities where a variety of Swiss German is spoken, rather than Pennsylvania German. The Beachy Amish, especially those who were born roughly after 1960, tend to speak predominantly in English at home. All other Amish groups use either Pennsylvania German or a variety of Swiss German as their in-group language of discourse. There are small dialectal variations between communities, such as Lancaster County and Indiana speech varieties. The Amish are aware of regional variation, and occasionally experience difficulty in understanding speakers from outside their own area.


The common theme among all Amish clothing is plainness; clothing should not call attention to the wearer by cut, color, or any other feature. Hook-and-eye closures or straight pins are used as fasteners on dress clothing rather than buttons, zippers, or velcro. Snaps are used on everyday clothes, and plain buttons for work shirts and trousers. The historic restriction on buttons is attributed to tradition and their potential for ostentation.[12] In all things, the aesthetic value is plainness. Some groups tend to limit color to black (trousers, dresses) and white (shirts), while others allow muted colors. Dark blue denim work clothing is common within some groups as well. The Old Order Amish often sew their own clothing, and work clothing can become quite worn and patched with use.

Women wear calf-length plain-cut dresses in a solid color. Aprons are often worn at home, usually, in white (typically for the unmarried) or purple or black (for the married), and are always worn when attending church. A cape, which consists of a triangular piece of cloth, is usually worn, beginning around the teenage years, and pinned into the apron. In the colder months, a long woolen cloak may be worn. Heavy bonnets are worn over the prayer coverings when Amish women are out and about in cold weather, with the exception of the Nebraska Amish, who do not wear bonnets. Girls in some areas may wear colored bonnets until age nine; older girls and women wear black bonnets.[13] Girls begin wearing a cape for church and dress-up occasions at about age eight. Single women wear a white cape to church until about the age of thirty. Everyday capes are colored, matching the dress, until about age forty when only black is used.[14]

Men typically wear dark-colored trousers, some with a dark vest or coat, suspenders (in some communities), broad-brimmed straw hats in the warmer months, and black felt hats in the colder months. However, some, mostly teenagers, may deviate from these customs to convey someone's individuality.[15] Married men and those over forty grow a beard. Mustaches are forbidden because they are associated with European military officers and militarism in general.[16] A beard may serve the same symbolic function, in some Old Order Amish settings, as a wedding ring, and marks the passage into manhood.


Amish furniture is furniture marketed as being made by the Amish, primarily of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. It is generally known as being made of 100% wood, usually without particle board or laminate. Amish furniture making is often a skill passed through many generations. Because Amish beliefs prevent the use of electricity, many woodworking tools in Amish shops are powered by a hydraulic and pneumatic power that is run on diesel generators. No piece of furniture is ever identical to another because of the care taken to select the wood. The grain is different on every piece of wood, and the craftsmen often try to highlight the features of each individual piece.


Amish music is primarily German in origin, including ancient singing styles not found anywhere in Europe. Sacred music originates from modern hymns derived from the Pennsylvania Dutch/German culture.

Singing is a major part of Amish churches and some songs take over fifteen minutes to sing. "Lob Lied" is a well known Amish song. It is always the second song sung at an Amish church service and is often sung at Amish weddings.

Older Amish hymns are monophonic, without meter, and feature drawn-out tones with slowly articulated ornamentation. Usually, there is no harmony in the music. Pennsylvania spirituals are more contemporary and include a wide variety of influences. Although a few Amish learn to play traditional instruments such as the harmonica or the accordion, instruments are not played in public. Thus, singing is usually unaccompanied.

"Sings" or "Singings", are attended by young people approaching marriage-age. They are usually held in barns on a Sunday evening after a worship service and are an essential element in Amish courting practices as the young participants are encouraged to engage in social discourse between songs.

While singing in church is in German, singing outside of the church is more often in English than in Pennsylvania German, even though the Amish know many traditional worldly Pennsylvania German songs. The most popular performer of worldly Pennsylvania German songs is John Schmid, who is also very popular among the Amish.


  1. ^ Kraybill (2001), p. 88.
  2. ^ Kraybill (2001), p. 87.
  3. ^ "The Traditional Family & The Amish".
  4. ^ Amish Society (Hostetler) pp.160
  5. ^ a b c d John A. Hostetler: Amish Society (Fourth Edition), Baltimore, 1993, page 146.
  6. ^ Kraybill (2001), p. 148.
  7. ^ "An Amish Wedding | Celery, Honeymoon, Gifts and all". 2017-10-24. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  8. ^ John A. Hostetler: Amish Society (Fourth Edition), Baltimore, 1993, page 170.
  9. ^ "About the Amish, Mennonites & the "Plain People"". Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  10. ^ "Ohio's Amish seek help for underage drinking" By Amy Beth Graves (AP). Sunday, May 21, 2000. Cincinnati Enquirer [1]
  11. ^ Smith, p. 511.
  12. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: The Riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore, 2001, pages 66–70.
  13. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: The Riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore, 2001, page 62.
  14. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: The Riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore, 2001, page 61.
  15. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: The Riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore, 2001, [2]
  16. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: The Riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore, 2001, pages 63–65.

Further reading[edit]

  • Trollinger, Susan L. (2012). Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9781421404196.

External links[edit]