1. What is Amish?
Amish people are traditionalist Christians made up of the two main groups, the Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites. The two North American sects of Amish split into two sects in the mid-to-late 1800s, but it was back in the 1700s when they first emigrated to North America from Europe.
Founded by the Swiss Anabaptist Jakob Ammann, the Amish lifestyle focuses on adhering to a more primitive, or natural, way of living simply in a Godly manner. Like so many others, the Amish migrated to North America—eventually settling in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—to escape religious persecution in search of more tolerant surroundings.
2. European origins
Jakob Ammann, the Anabaptist who founded the Amish church, sparked the Amish people’s eventual immigration to America in the late 1600s when his beliefs clashed with other Swiss Anabaptists’ views on how to treat any of their fellow “fallen” believers.
Ammann strongly believed in a very literal interpretation of the Bible, meaning the practice of excommunication should be followed very strictly (which we will discuss later), whereas other Anabaptists held a much more lenient view. This small difference could not be reconciled, leading to a strong enough rift in the church that drove Ammann and his followers far away from their mountainous origins.
3. What is Anabaptist?
Anabaptism is a denomination of the Christian church that firmly believes the only way to perform a true baptism is for the person to confess their faith in Jesus Christ, and say that they want to be baptized. In other words, Anabaptists do not believe in baptizing babies, as infants aren’t consciously making this choice.
Along with the Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites also derive their faiths from this practice of a “believer’s baptism.” Even those who have already been baptized as an infant must be baptized again, which is actually the literal definition of Anabaptist: one who baptizes again.
Now let’s dive into the details of what the Amish are all about.
4. Pennsylvania Dutch
Putting style aside, one of the most identifiable characteristics of the Amish is that they speak Pennsylvania German or, as it’s also commonly referred to, Pennsylvania Dutch.
Although Pennsylvania Dutch traces its roots back to Germany, it is not the same language as Standard German.
This language primarily derives from immigrants from the Palatinate region of Germany. Modern-day Palatinate German is not the exact same as Pennsylvania German, but it is the closest dialect that shares enough of the language to actually have some conversation.
So, whether it is the Old Order Amish, Amish Mennonites, or New Order Amish, they’re all speaking that Pennsylvania Dutch.
5. Different dialects
Just as the Amish divided into their own sects—Old Order Amish, Amish Mennonites, New Order Amish—and developed their own varying traditions, the splits also led to a couple different dialects.
Those of the Old Order Amish faith in Adams and Allen County, Indiana, use two different Alemannic dialects.
Depending on the area, the Amish follow their own unique set of traditions, which includes these two places in Indiana where they actually speak Alemannic, which is a separate Germanic dialect. Even then, it somehow gets even more confusing with the different dialects within that. Suffice it to say, English speakers won’t understand it any easier.
6. Believer’s Baptism
Since infants cannot consciously make their own decision to be baptized, let alone understand the significance of the moment, a “believer’s baptism” requires the individual to wait until adulthood for the momentous occasion.
Baptisms usually do not occur until around the ages of 18 or 19 to 22 or 23.
A person getting baptized sits with one hand over their face as a symbol of humility, as he or she “submits” themselves to the church. During this time, the person is asked three questions: Can they renounce the devil, can they commit to Christ and His church, and can they live obediently and submissively according to the order of the world?
The Amish live by a strict set of rules known as the Ordnung, that essentially dictates their entire way of life. Even though the Amish generally draw their religious guidelines from the Bible, the Ordnung is actually an unwritten code of conduct.
Since this is not a concrete set of rules, the Ordnung actually differs regionally, just like dialects do. Depending on the community, some practice a much stricter set of rules while others are more lenient. Often this has to do with the use of more practical technologies, as we’ll discuss later. What is universal amongst the different Ordnungs is the emphasis on modesty and humility.
8. Peaceful living
One of the most important codes that Amish practice is to lead a life of pacifism. Peaceful living has always been an essential element to their life, dating way back to their earliest days immigrating to and settling in America.
The Amish have long been conscientious objectors, meaning they claim a religious right to abstain from participating in any military service. They have gone through great lengths to maintain a peaceful lifestyle, with early examples dating back to around the time of the Indian Removal Act, when some families took tribe members into their homes to protect them from attacks.
One of the primary methods Amish people use as a means of maintaining a pacifist life is excommunication. When a member of the Amish community commits an act that goes against their religious code, “Meidung,” or shunning, is used as a means of shaming the individual.
Shunning can be temporary or, if what the person did was truly egregious, permanent. The person can return from being excommunicated if he or she is willing to repent for whatever was done. Until then, the community will not eat, sleep with, or even accept gifts from the shunned person. It’s safe to say that it’s an effective method.
With how consumed most of the world is with technology, the Amish have grown relatively accustomed to seeing tourists want to snap photographs of their lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean they willingly embrace it.
Oftentimes, Amish people are against being photographed, considering a picture to be a “graven image.”
In the Ten Commandments, graven images are forbidden, which the Amish translate to someone posing (in a vain manner). This can be very lenient, however, as it is often deemed okay to be photographed “naturally” when not posing. Some individuals will cover their face when photographed as another means to circumvent this issue.
Due to religious beliefs, the Amish do not marry outside of their faith or even their own communities, which means marriage is only possible after someone officially accepts the religion through baptism.
Since farm life consumes so much time in the day throughout the season, weddings normally take place in November or December, once the harvest is over.
There are no wedding rings, as the Ordnung forbids jewelry of any sort. Rather than ornate flowers, houses are usually decorated with celery, which fits right in line with avoiding vanity. It’s the perfectly bland food that embodies everything a beautiful flower does not.
Rather than an extravagant honeymoon, newlyweds will spend time visiting friends and relatives before starting their new life.
12. Women’s fashion
Women’s fashion is made of a list of far more things they do not do or wear than do. Accessories are pretty much nonexistent since, as shown by the lack of wedding bands for married couples, all forms of jewelry are banned…not even buttons are allowed.
Women sew the dresses they wear for themselves, and the dresses are one solid color. For their wedding, a woman will make a new formal dress—often blue or purple—that will then be used for other formal functions. Rather than rings, women wear black bonnets to symbolize they’re married. The general rule of thumb is to just avoid extravagance.
13. Men’s style
Like women, men wear very plain clothing, sticking to darker denims or black. While women wear black bonnets in place of rings, men begin to grow their beards instead of wearing a wedding band. If a man isn’t married, it isn’t until age 40 that he can start growing out a beard, symbolizing a transition into manhood.
Beards may make the man, but mustaches are always a big no-no. The Amish heavily lean on long-standing traditions, which is where barring mustaches comes from—something associated with European military officers, something they want no part of. One of the iconic pieces of men’s fashion we often associate with the Amish is their straw and felt hats, worn in the warm and summer months, respectively.
14. Faceless dolls
The practice of avoiding pride and vanity extends to many facets of Amish life beyond just fashion and eluding photographs. To help put greater emphasis on completely shutting out the potential for vanity, dolls for children are actually made without faces.
Let’s be completely honest, faceless dolls are super intense and kind of terrifying. Putting that aside, this seemingly small detail shows just how much effort the Amish put into adhering to a humble lifestyle by deterring any opportunity for pride and vanity.
It may seem a bit silly, but considering how these dolls are all handmade, one “perfectly crafted” face could emit beauty when compared to a more poorly made, “ugly” doll.
15. Baby boom
The entire mindset of living a moral life comes from Jakob Ammann’s belief that the Bible should be interpreted literally, and there is no better example of this than how the Amish interpret Genesis. It isn’t just any passage in Genesis, it is God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply.”
They take that very seriously. The Amish have experienced a baby boom of epic proportions in recent years. Every eight years since the 1920 census shows a population increase of somewhere between 3–5 percent; since 2000, that’s turned a population of roughly 166,000 people into over 330,000!
Since having a big family is thought to be “Godly,” this boom isn’t slowing down any time soon.
16. Genetic dangers
Although the Amish are experiencing a population explosion, they are also highly susceptible to a number of health issues.
Almost the entire Amish population can be traced back to the religion’s original 200 founding members, which does NOT mean they actually suffer a high rate of genetic disorders, but have a much higher risk of rare or atypical disorders.
Due to inbreeding, especially in the smaller communities that are particularly isolated, children are more susceptible to a higher mortality rate since the disorders they suffer are so much rarer or different from that of the general population.
Despite all of this, there is good news…
17. Clean living
Amish people may face greater health risks in their early adolescence, but thanks to what is overall an extremely healthy lifestyle, cancer rates aren’t nearly the same risk as they are to most Americans.
This goes across all forms of cancer—even skin cancer is way lower, since their conservative dress keeps them well covered from the sun despite long hours of work outdoors.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is indirectly a part of the Amish motto, as laziness and idleness are both highly frowned upon. Couple an active life with what is an extremely healthy diet compared to the average American’s absurdly inorganic diet, and it’s hard to argue how well-balanced they are in terms of health.
18. Church community
With the overwhelmingly plain lifestyle that the Amish strive to live, church is a huge tradition in the community. (It’s probably not the most surprising thing, considering their laundry list of devout practices.)
Communities technically don’t “go to church” so much as they set aside Sundays for worship.
The Amish people don’t actually have churches in their communities. Instead, members of the community hold worship services at someone’s house. By worshipping God with the community while literally being in a neighbor’s home, the Amish simultaneously find themselves closer to their community and God through their religion. It’s an essential part of their religious practices.
19. Six fingers
When Amish parents welcome a child into the world, they aren’t all that surprised to count eleven fingers or toes on their newborn. The Amish have an above average likelihood to inherit what is known as Ellis-van Creveld syndrome. Though the syndrome manifests in a variety of symptoms, one common expression of the rare genetic disorder is polydactylyism: extra fingers or toes.
Ellis-van Creveld syndrome is the result of a recessive gene, which in larger populations, gets diluted. However, because the Amish live in small communities and therefore intermarry with homogeneous populations, the gene has been passed down from generation to generation.
20. Barn raising
Church isn’t the only thing that brings the community together. One of the most iconic pastimes we commonly associate with the Amish is their barn raising tradition.
Since modern technology is frowned upon if not avoided altogether, it takes a small army to come together and put up an entire farm.
Once again, the Amish find an incredible way of bringing the entire community together, bonding over something that is both literally and figuratively constructive. From Pennsylvania to Indiana, it’s as much a necessity that barn raising is done at a blistering speed in summers to be ready for winter.
21. A capella
Faceless dolls are just the start of avoiding anything and everything that has potential for being considered excessive. Like their propensity to pick muted colors that don’t stick out, Amish people are pretty particular about the music they take part in.
Music is allowed, but the only “instrument” they use is the voice they were born with. Singing is the only musical outlet used, because musical instruments are seen as a self-expression that can emit feelings of pride. Even some of their songs are intentionally monosyllabic, which honestly just sounds more like metered talking than anything. Oh well, to each their own.
Schooling is a uniquely paradoxical thing in the Amish community. While it is there to teach and enlighten children, it is also very intentionally utilized in a way that does not educate to its full potential. The clearest example of this is that the parochial schooling ceases after eighth grade.
After that, teenagers turn to vocational training. It makes a lot of sense for youth to dive into whatever trade they choose at a young age since their religion already makes a concerted effort to live a simpler life, but the flip side of this coin is that part of the desire to stop higher learning is to avoid fostering “anti-Christian” ideas.
Converting to the Amish religion is something that is done so rarely, it’s barely a sliver of a footnote in the history of the religion, which likely has to do with some super strict rules required to be a part of the community.
One of the more obvious things that a person trying to convert has to do is leave all modern luxuries behind to embrace the more natural, simple lifestyle. Things start to get a lot harder, as the person has to be able to speak Pennsylvania German. Some community members actually only speak German, so this is not something that’s taken lightly. Only when a potential convert lives with an Amish family to adapt to the household and lifestyle is he or she accepted into the community; only then does it become official.
Amish woodworking is not so much a skill as it is a way of life. Whatever the specific training an individual takes on upon finishing their formal education and turning to vocational training, likely started long before entering adulthood. Children learn so many things at an early age by helping their parents around the house.
Woodworking is something that all Amish are well-versed in, because their “natural living” means crafting pretty much everything (well, most things) by hand. Amish have honed this craft over generations, making their furniture reach world acclaim. One of the coolest features of some of their furniture is that it’s made entirely of wood—no nails, laminate, or any filler holding these works of art together.
Three primary principles the Amish live by are humility, obedience, and simplicity. Put those three things together and it’s pretty easy to figure out that incorporating innovative ideas and inventions into the community is going to be met with a hard “no.”
Although different Amish communities have made various exceptions to this rule, incorporating “worldly” possessions—material things—into life means breaking further away from a spiritual existence, so technology is avoided. That means that even electricity is a no-go.
Just take a look at how these kids are reacting to seeing a phone for the first time when a family member outside their faith took one out.
Since technology in all of its various forms is frowned upon, that means that traveling from one place to another is not something that takes place in the form of a train, plane, car, etc. Instead, it is done by another one of the most iconic things associated with the Amish culture—the horse and buggy.
Avoiding technology isn’t the only reason the Amish prefer not to take to the horsepower of cars—these communities have such a heavy reliance on their fellow man that there’s actually a fear that using a car would take away the dependence on their fellow neighbors. This sense of community is very important in the Amish culture.
Even though the Amish are opposed to many modern luxuries, medicine is probably the big exception to that rule. Generally, Amish people are very accepting to modern medicine or any form of medical treatment, as there aren’t really any clear-cut rules in the Bible that bar the use of these things.
Since the Amish don’t exactly have insurance plans, a community will often come together to pool their money and cover the cost of a hospital bill or expensive treatment. Once again, this shows the incredible strength of what a tight-knit community can accomplish, even when it may seem like they don’t have much.
Rumspringa is the big coming-of-age moment—its literal translation is “jumping” or “hopping around”—in a young adult’s life. This rite of passage comes around age 16, when a person has experienced the world, before making a decision on whether or not to be baptized.
During this time, the usually very strict code of conduct the Amish live by is toned down so that the young adult can experience all the world has to offer, allowing that person to make a truly informed decision when deciding whether or not to join the church for life.
The trumped-up Hollywood version of this momentous occasion plays out like a teenager living the rock-star lifestyle. While that certainly is possible, it isn’t exactly the norm.
Old school living means adhering to a lot of outdated customs. One of the clearest examples of that is the position women hold in their society. Women are typically relegated to the stereotypical “housewife” role, in charge of taking care of the house, cooking, tending to clothes and helping neighbors if needed.
Women do not hold jobs. They are not allowed to be bishops, preachers, or deacons. Women are usually known to “follow the lead” of their husbands, playing into a more subservient role that leaves pretty much any and all decision-making to the husband as the head of the household.
There are a ton of seemingly outdated traditions (from the outside looking in) that the Amish practice, but bundling may be the most mind-blowing one to process. It’s called “bundling,” and it’s as opposite of the word “wild” as possible.
Since the Amish are strongly opposed to premarital sex, bundling provides a means of getting to intimately know a (potential) partner in bed and court them in a nonsexual way. The man and woman both lay down in bed separate from one another, and are bundled up in separate blankets to ensure they are apart.
In some instances, there’s even a bonus divider stuck in between the two.
As with so many traditions in Amish culture, funerals do not follow any singular code of conduct, though there are several general oversights shared.
The main aspects shared are rooted in some of the essential values that define Amish living, namely simplicity and humility.
Like church services, funerals are often held in a person’s home rather than a funeral home. Instead of celebrating the life of the deceased, Bible passages are of creation and resurrection are read.
After the ceremony, a hearse brings the coffin to a cemetery (often an Amish one) where the grave is marked by a simple headstone. Sometimes, these headstones go a step beyond “modest” by using a wooden marker that will eventually decay into nothing as time passes.
Amish quilts are renowned all around the world for their expert and quality design. However, the famous craftsmanship of the ornate patterns are actually quite different from what the Amish make for themselves.
Over the last few decades, quiltmakers have taken to making more colorful patterned designs that appeal to a consumer market.
As for the “authentic” Amish quilt, the ones they make for themselves are far less fanciful. Only solid colors are/were used, and they would usually be made up of the same material as their clothes.
So while a true Amish quilt is as plain as the clothing they wear, their quilts for the general public are the quite the opposite.
Along with the many subgroups of the Amish are “para-Amish” groups that are usually made up of people that have some sort of Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Old German Baptist or similar origins.
A number of these groups are located in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Defining traits of these groups are easily identifiable—use of horse and buggy and simple and plain dress—thus the “para” designation. What says these groups apart from the Amish are religious doctrines that do not line up with traditional beliefs. Other reasons for the “para” designation are for practices that fall out of line with the standard Amish way of life.
To gold standard of Amish cuisine can be found most readily in the county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Here, all things are Pennsylvania Dutch, which is exactly what the food is categorized under. No matter the dish, simplicity is always the key.
One of the most iconic meals associated with the Amish is soup – tons and tons of soup. Hot, cold, broths and chowders, all varieties of soups are often filled with egg noodles or potato.
Meals and desserts are made up of many similar components the most common being apples (butter, pie, dumpling), potato (rolls, salad, filling) and chicken (pot pie, waffles, soup).
Communion is a religious practice that does not necessarily have to fall within the same time as regular church services. Instead, it’s up to the community elders who lead the congregation to decide a time to hold Holy Communion in either spring or fall.
This religious rite is only for those who have been baptized, which syncs up with their practice of believer’s baptism. When the ritual draws to a close, the men and women, who remain separate throughout the event, will wash one another’s feet just as the tradition is described in the Gospels of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
Retirement for the Amish is a decision that is made much like the rest of society today, falling on the individual to choose when to make the leap.
Amish folk often choose to retire sometime in their 50s or later in their 60s and even 70s.
The common custom is for the retired person(s) to pretty much move next door in a little place next to their family. Since these retired Amish people are grandparents, they still keep busy helping their family out around the farm. All in all, staying close to their family rather than going to a retirement home ensures a higher quality of life that doesn’t have the same risk of loneliness.
The way an Amish congregation is made up is as simple as determining the location in which the person lives. Boundaries are set, making a close-knit group of somewhere between 25 and 30 families of neighbors. Each congregation has leadership made up of a bishop, deacon and secretary.
Since congregations come together to worship in their own homes and rely so heavily on one another, neighborly relations are pivotal to function successfully.
Getting along with one another is crucial, considering a fallout between two individuals or families would mean way more than just not getting along with someone down the street. Remaining in the good graces with every member of the congregation means so much more, because the congregation is and individual’s end all be all lifeline.
38. In for life
Not only have the Amish continually seen growth, there are really no signs of that stopping any time soon. The average Amish family has roughly six or seven children, and nearly 90 percent of the population chooses to be baptized and remain in the church for life.
With that said, the Amish are strongly opposed to evangelism of any sort, meaning they make no concerted effort to spread their faith to others to get people to join—when simply raising a family alone helps grow the religion, there’s no need to bother. That’s all the evidence needed to know Rumspringa isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.