One of the best-known religious minority groups in the world, the Amish are a fascinating people and culture. Renowned for their traditional lifestyles, they live more simply than most of us, often focusing on farming and crafts while worshiping God based on a tradition split off from the Mennonites a few centuries ago. Over the past few years, the television channel TLC has made various shows showcasing Amish youth and has given the world an insight to a culture which generally opposes photography and the presence of outsiders. Despite some modern changes (accepted by only some sects) such as inside flush toilets and one telephone for the community, the Amish have done a remarkable job keeping to their traditional ways. There are loads of interesting facts about them you may not know. For instance, did you know the Amish primarily speak their own dialect of German (known as Pennsylvania Dutch, a bastardization of the word for German – “Deutsch” – in German)? How about why some Amish men have long beards while others are clean shaven? Or why they only allow faceless dolls and reject cars and other modern machinery? Read on to find out these and more about the Amish people in this list of 25 Things You Might Not Know About the Amish.
Origin of "Amish"
The term “Amish” is derived from the name of Jakob Ammann, a Swiss Anabaptist in the Mennonite church who strongly advocated for a literal interpretation of the Bible. His ideas caused a schism in the church and the followers who sided with him were thus known as Amish.
What's an Anabaptist?
Anabaptism is sometimes considered to be a sect of Protestantism known for its opposition and refusal to baptize an infant. Anabaptists believe baptism should only be done once one is able to willingly confess their faith.
Baptism and marriage
Baptism in the Amish faith happens most often between 18-22 years old. Until this happens, the person is not permitted to marry and when they do marry, it must be to another church member.
Strict pacifists, the Amish reject any form of violence. To this aim, Amish members do not participate in the military.
The faceless dolls
Take a look at an Amish doll (if you can find one) and you’ll see it has no face. The faceless dolls are believed to deter against pride and vanity.
When a child in an Amish family turns 16, they enter a limited time period called Rumspringa. During this time, the youth is allowed to go out and do things normally forbidden by the Amish community. Though more symbolic for some as they go to a movie theater or for a driving lesson, some have been known to consume drugs and alcohol.
The Amish, in numbers
The Amish first immigrated to North America in the early 1700’s, primarily settling down in Pennsylvania. Today, over 300,000 Amish people live in over 28 U.S. states and Canada.
Similar to the reasons for having faceless dolls, the Amish do not play any musical instruments, claiming they are a method of self-expression which would encourage pride and feelings of superiority.
An Amish woman's role
An Amish woman is primarily a homemaker, taking on a more traditional gender role including cooking, home management, and helping neighbors. In public, an Amish woman will generally follow her husband’s lead.
The Amish can exclude members in two different ways. The first, shunning, involves members of the community limiting contact with the transgressor to shame them back into the church and show them the errors of their ways.
The more serious charge – excommunication – is a total shutdown of contact with the person and a banishment from the community. Even parents must cut contact if their child has been excommunicated lest they are excommunicated themselves.
It’s generally a well-known Amish fact that members cannot use motorized vehicles such as cars. The Amish horse and buggy may even be the most commonly seen picture of Amish life. Since community members are mutually dependent on each other for survival, the speed and efficiency of a car is seen to undermine the need for a neighbor to ask another for help.
Since before the Amish’s founding as a splinter group from the Mennonites, Anabaptists were persecuted and thus held church services in their homes. A different member usually hosts the community with the host changing weekly.
Beyond the horse and buggy, Amish communities are widely known for the festive time known as a barn raising. Both an economic and social event, barn raisings are where the community comes together to build a barn for one of its members. The act typifies selflessness and neighbors helping neighbors, bedrocks of Amish culture.
The famous beard
Looking at an Amish man, you can tell if he’s married or not – just look at his beard. An Amish man begins growing his beard (though not his mustache – they’re not allowed) immediately after his wedding.
A woman's church dress
Similar to a man’s beard, an Amish woman uses her wedding outfit – which she must sew herself and which is sometimes required to be blue – for Sunday church services after she is married.
Though the Amish place the Word of God above governmental rule, they support the separation of church and state.
Amish children learn in one-room parochial schoolhouses taught by Amish teachers. After that point, the child goes to vocational training with their family and members of the community where they learn skills such as farming and carpentry.
Reasons for excommunication
The Amish can excommunicate someone for owning a computer, drinking alcohol, or even refusing to kneel during church.
The Amish are set apart from other Christians in that they do not engage in missionary work or evangelism to gain more converts to the faith.
Referred to as “English” people, the Amish are normally uncomfortable by non-Amish people. The Amish aim for peaceful coexistence in their lifestyle with the outside world. Some groups, such as in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, frequently see outsiders (as tourists) as they show them their way of life.
Amish groups generally are not opposed to the use of modern medicine and do use it in serious cases. Since they don’t have insurance, the community pools together funds to pay for a sick community member.
The Amish are mostly opposed to being photographed because they feel the photo is a fixed image. Most refuse to be in a picture though some agree if it is in a natural setting (in contrast to posing) or if their faces aren’t showing.
Retention rate of Amish children
One of the most interesting Amish facts to outsiders is that 80-90% of Amish children stay within the church. This retention rate plus a high birth rate means that the Amish population doubles in size every 20 years.
Converting to the Amish faith
For anyone wanting to join the Amish, the process is pretty rigorous. One must learn the Pennsylvania German dialect spoken by the Amish (some only speak German) and leave behind their familiar modern luxuries which are in contrast to Amish society. The potential convert is put to live with an Amish family to adapt to the household and lifestyle. After a sufficient period of acclimation, the final say rests in a church vote on whether to admit the potential convert.