Most people know that the Amish often live without electricity, travel by horse and buggy, churn their own butter, and make awesome furniture. But it isn’t all about austerity and homesteading! Thanks to their observance of tradition, this Swiss Christian culture has endured in the US for centuries. Their mantra is “Be ye not conformed to this world”, and they’re doing a spectacular job with that. Read on and discover 17 facts about the Amish people you didn’t know.
1. Amish and Mennonite – NOT THE SAME.
Horse-drawn buggies making their way along rural roads, modest dress, and more set both the Amish and Mennonites apart from society in an obvious way. They aren’t keen on regularly intermingling with the “English” (their name for us), so most people get them confused. The true difference is muddy, but here are the basics. Amish and Mennonites share religious roots, but they split apart from one another before 1700. Today, many Mennonite communities are known to be more relaxed with their rules, and you’re more likely to see them driving cars and using computers.
2. In fact, all Amish aren’t the same, either.
Each Amish community will differ from the next in small ways. The most traditional is the Old Order. The Old Order tends to embody all of the ideas the “English” have about Amish folks and their avoidance of modernity. Some communities, like the Kalona and Somerset Amish, make use of more modern appliances and conveniences. They see no problem with the use of tractors, lawnmowers, flushing toilets, and washing machines.
3. Amish men do not grow mustaches. But beards are a sign of a true blue Amishman.
Their beards are the envy of stylish manly men everywhere, but what’s with the no-mustache thing? It is said that the Amish associate mustaches with the military. The military is a construct of the very world Amish will never join or conform to. But Amish men do shave – until they’re married. From then on, it’s nothing but beard.
4. Their self-sufficiency knows no bounds.
They keep their land in their families. They grow their own food and make their own clothes and furniture. They educate their own children and do not use many of the resources that we share, like electricity. Even more than that, they don’t accept government assistance or enroll in entitlement programs. For the Amish, there is no welfare, no disability, and no Social Security upon retirement.
5. Wedding dress? Don’t forget the wedding APRON.
The Amish bride would typically sew her own wedding dress in a shade of blue or purple – no patterned fabric allowed. This unadorned dress will be topped off with an apron, and possibly a cape. Hopefully, the Amish woman is pleased with her handiwork, because she’ll be wearing her handmade wedding garments to church every Sunday. Actually, she should make sure she loves it. It’s also tradition for an Amish woman to be buried in her wedding clothes when she passes.
6. No one is rocking out.
Old Order Amish folks do not play musical instruments. Their commitment to modesty precludes them from most forms of self-expression. It’s also indecent to evoke emotion in others, and as us outsiders know, music is a key way to get fired up or have a good cry. However, they do enjoy singing! Their book of church hymns, the Ausbund, contains no musical notes – elders in your family will teach you how the song is supposed to be sung.
7. They eat a diet of unprocessed whole foods and get plenty of exercise.
It’s doubtful that there are many vegans or CrossFit fanatics in the Amish community, but they’re still really healthy. Even with the gravy, fried chicken, bacon, and pies available at communal meals and in Amish markets. Some of it comes down to the fact that their produce is organic, their protein is unprocessed, and all of it is prepared completely from scratch. The real answer can be found in two little words: hard work. Being self-sufficient isn’t convenient, but it sure does burn calories!
8. Murder is basically nonexistent, but sex crimes are a different story.
Us English are aware of the patriarchy and are very involved with fostering equality amongst genders. The Amish, on the other hand, live in a patriarchy that is not likely to change any time soon. The women there are highly submissive, and there is no sexual health education. Unfortunately, this leads to abuses and violations that are never reported or resolved. If an accuser does name her abuser, it’s often handled by the church, and the punishment may not fit the crime – some are just excluded from church activities for a period of time and ordered to apologize.
9. They make creepy dolls. Well made, but creepy.
Amish toys are fantastic handmade keepsakes that speak to the simplicity of childhood. But children outside of their ranks may be confused as to why their Amish doll has no face. Did they forget to finish it? No. The Amish believe that you shouldn’t create false idols, and that only God creates faces; basically, God holds a copyright on the human image. And in keeping with their modesty, vanity is looked down upon – something modern dolls can breed with their idealized images.
10. Rumspringa isn’t just an excuse to party.
Reality television shows us Amish kids that are dying to hit the big city and let it all hang out. It’s true that young Amish adults do often enjoy the opportunity to drink alcohol, listen to music, and experience a new kind of socializing, but it isn’t the whole story. Many leave home to take education courses, since the Amish don’t attend school after the eighth grade. Others study for their driver’s license, or pursue other tame interests that can only be found outside of their communities. Interestingly, few give into this temptation – it’s estimated that 90% of all teens choose to rejoin their families and live as Amish adults after Rumspringa.
11. Although Christian, they are not baptized until adulthood.
This doesn’t seem like such a big deal to most Americans. However, this one fact was instrumental in making the Amish who they are today. Unlike other early Anabaptists, the Amish interpreted the scriptures and decided that only adults should be baptized. A theme running through the Amish faith is choice, and they believe that baptism should be the choice of an adult who is committed to their faith. They also believe that babies are born without sin, so cleansing them of sin wouldn’t make much sense.
12. They’re mostly on board with modern medicine.
This is something else that varies depending on the community. More traditional, old-school communities will resort to homeopathy, but Amish families seeking non-Amish healthcare is pretty common. The catch is that as discussed in fact number four, they don’t participate in regular insurance or benefits programs. So how do they pay? The entire community comes together and rustles up the funding. Some groups even have funds on hand that are reserved for healthcare costs.
13. They have no interest in converting you. Or judging you.
Evangelism isn’t part of traditional Amish faith. So unlike other religions, the Amish do not go out and proselytize or perform missions for their church. Their commitment to nonviolence and modesty also makes them very tolerant – they know that their faith isn’t the only faith, and that’s fine by them. But if you want to join their ranks, it won’t be easy. Even after you study hard, or spend time living with an Amish family to see what it entails, it’s rare for a community to accept a convert.
14. Amish people choose who they marry.
Their lifestyle sounds so strict to the average American that it’s common to assume their marriages are arranged. Not so – as long as your partner is baptized Amish, and of opposite gender. Courting couples enjoy horseback riding, hand-holding, and private outings. Young couples getting serious about one another are also even permitted to sleep in bed together, but only sleep. This is called “bundling”, and both parties remain fully clothed.
15. They’re often multilingual.
Just because they don’t have much in the way of a formal education doesn’t mean the Amish aren’t accomplished. A lot of traditional Amish groups speak three languages. Church services are help in High German. When Amish children begin school, they will learn English in order to communicate with non-Amish people. That’s because although the Amish want to be left alone, they accept that interaction with the outside world is a fact of life, so they prepare and educate accordingly. At home, they speak a German dialect like Pennsylvania Dutch, or even Amish Swiss.
16. They take care of one another without thinking twice.
The depth of their commitment to community is something you’d be hard-pressed to find in regular “English” communities. Chief among their community traditions is a classic barn-raising. Working together enforces the idea that they are there for the success of their entire community, not just their own personal prosperity. It’s also common for the Amish to have massive potlucks, and church services may be held in one another’s homes. If one family has a need, it’s the whole community’s responsibility to assist them and resolve the problem.
17. “Amish” comes from “Ammann”.
Here’s a bit more info on how the Amish and Mennonites broke up. Jakob Ammann was a 17th century Mennonite who was less than pleased with where he saw the Anabaptist movement heading. He thought that the Mennonite church lacked discipline in general, and specifically believed that people who left the church after baptism should be banned. His followers became the “Amish” and left the church with Jakob. The kicker is that Ammann ended up regretting the breakup, but his reunification efforts were in vain, and the Amish are here to stay.