Many people have asked the question, “What is Amish?” That’s a complicated question to answer, because the Amish people can’t be summed up in a few simple explanations. Most people know the Amish as a people who dress plainly, live simply, and avoid the conveniences of modern technology. Their history goes back to at least 1693, when a group of Anabaptists chose to break off into their own church, led by Jakob Ammann. One of the things that separated the Amish from others were the Amish rules, ways of living that designed to avoid the distractions and temptations of the wider world.
Amish Rules That You May Want to Know
Harmony with Nature
The Amish believe in nature as a friend, and they always live in rural communities and work the land. They believe in care for plants and animals, and working to better the land, never doing anything to harm it.
Religion and Technology
There are many ways in which technology and religion don’t mix, and the Amish are careful to keep them separate. They do not have a dedicated church building, but hold services in the homes of the community. Coffins are hand-made, and the graves are dug by hand as well. They don’t use any government benefits, do not serve in the military, or use electricity from the outside world. Work in their farms is done by animals and man, rather than by machinery.
Use of Electricity
Using electricity from other sources is avoided, as it is seen as a way to connect with the broader world. There are some exceptions when safety is an issue; for example, adding flashers to buggies for safety and to stay within the law, and the use of electricity to power electric fences to keep animals from wandering. Some Amish rules allow communities to use phones and indoor lights, especially if they are running a business that interacts with the outside world.
Clothing, Dress, and Personal Appearance of the Amish
Most of the clothing the Amish wear is made by the women, and is very plain so as to not draw attention to the looks of the person wearing it. Men and boys wear black hats with broad rims, straight-cut coats with no lapels, and dark colors in all their dress. Women wear bonnets, full-length dresses, capes and aprons. They wear their hair in a bun and wear no jewelry of any kind.
Beard Cutting Attacks
Amish men must grow their beards without restriction. One of the most serious crimes against the Amish is to cut the beard. This can lead to shunning and shame, and is actually considered a hate crime. Some Amish sects have been known to attack others in this way, and the punishment is always severe.
Baptism for the Amish people happens when they are in their teenage years. Services are held in High German, in various family homes, and can last for a longer time than other church services. Musical instruments are not used, but singing is important. The Amish practice foot washing and Holy Communion happens twice a year.
Those who are in the Amish community typically speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a blend of German and English. They speak this way during everyday discourse, but children learn English at school. High German is studied for church services.
Those in Amish communities attend school only through the eighth grade, after which they begin working on the farm full-time. They attend one-room schools that are run by their communities. Their studies focus on the basics every child learns, but also include farming, homemaking and Amish history.
Travel and Transportation
The Amish people don’t use modern transportation, and instead walk or use bicycles, or horse-drawn buggies. These buggies are typically black, but some groups use different colors to distinguish their communities. If they do use modern transportation for longer trips, they typically take a bus.
Farming and Crafts
Farming is the lifeblood of the Amish community, and most are entirely self-sufficient. Some might choose to sell crafts and produce to outsiders. The Amish craftsmanship is second to none, and is prized for quality.
Amish rules allow for outsiders to take pictures of the way of life, such as the buildings and grounds, but forbid photographs of the Amish themselves. It is seen as a graven image, which is in violation of the Second Commandment.
Amish rules require that marriages happen only within the faith. Someone who chooses to marry outside the faith will likely be shunned. Engaged couples are “announced” or “published” in late October, and then are married in November or December.
Weddings and Courtship
Courtship begins with a boy asking a girl to ride in his buggy after church. Their courtship is often very secretive until a few weeks before they are to marry. Their intentions are announced in the church, and their wedding happens after harvest is complete. The couple does not kiss or exchange rings, but there is a reception afterward, during which they are celebrated.
Amish rules forbid acts of violence, as well as those that involve going to war. Because of this, Amish are conscientious objectors and pacifists who avoid violence at all costs. They will avoid going to the law if they possibly can, preferring to forgive rather than seek restitution.
When an Amish person is in their teens, they are allowed some leeway in learning about the English world and interacting with other religions and beliefs. This is done to ensure that they have had a chance to consider other religions. Most young people spend some time exploring, then come back to live as Amish.
A Typical Day for the Amish People
The typical day for an Amish man starts at very early, usually before the sun comes up. They tend to the animals first, including milking the cows. Then they join the family for prayer and breakfast before heading out to the fields. They work until lunch, take a break, then work again until evening, including milking the cows and tending to the animals once again. At sunset, they cease working and turn to community issues, or spend time with family before going to bed.
Amish women are just as busy. They begin their day with preparing breakfast and helping with the milking, then preparing the children for school. They tend to the garden and house, prepare meals for the family, preserve food, repair or make clothing, and handle other household tasks. During laundry day, typically on a Monday, the women will use wringer-style washing machines and hang clothes on a line to dry. At sunset they visit with family and community before they go to bed.
The Amish life from author of "Why I left the Amish":