The Amish folks have always fascinated outsiders due to their unique lifestyle, which stands in stark contrast to typical American ways. One incident that grabbed headlines occurred in December 2022 when two Amish girls from New York were kidnapped. Fortunately, they were safely reunited with their families, but it left many people puzzled. Due to the Amish community's aversion to photographs, police had to rely on a sketch artist to create an image of one of the girls. But this is just one of the many intriguing aspects of their culture. Here are ten lesser-known facts and misconceptions about the Amish people.
1. Parts of the Amish Community
Surprisingly, the Amish community can be divided into four primary groups: the Old Order, the New Order, the Beachy Amish, and the Amish Mennonites. Additionally, each of these groups has various subgroups within them.
2. Customs and traditions
While Amish communities have their unique rules, some regulations apply across the board, especially concerning clothing and hygiene. Most Amish individuals wear simple attire, often limited to black and white colors. They avoid buttons and zippers, using pins or hooks and eye closures instead. Their clothing style reflects their ancestors' fashion, emphasizing humility, a core value for the Amish people.
In the Amish communities, there are certain common practices related to hygiene that apply to everyone, regardless of their specific group. One such practice is men keeping facial hair. Young men can shave until they get married. Once married, they commit not only to their wives but also to growing and maintaining a beard throughout their lives. Interestingly, mustaches are forbidden for men of all ages in these communities.
As mentioned earlier, the Amish folks speak both German and English. However, the Pennsylvania Dutch, a German Low dialect, is viewed as "outdated" by many younger members of the community.
Luckily, the Amish are also taught American English, enabling them to communicate with customers and guests in their communities.
4. No Amish Parties
It's intriguing that the Amish hold children in high esteem, considering them their most precious possessions that they can take to heaven. However, they don't embrace mainstream celebrations. Events like gender reveal parties or baby showers aren't part of Amish customs. Additionally, traditional religious rituals like baptism aren't conducted on children or infants, as the Amish believe in letting their kids choose their faith when they're older.
Naturally, every family wishes for their children to stay close and carry on their way of life within their communities and traditions. Yet, they're remarkably open-minded, allowing their teenagers to explore a phase known as Rumspringa. While the term is familiar to many, few truly comprehend its significance.
Rumspringa stands as a significant tradition for all Amish individuals, a rite of passage granting them the freedom to venture beyond their community and experience the world. There are even Rumspringa youth groups, where those exploring the outside world can still gather with peers from their community to play games and engage in various social activities.
6. Taxes are Inevitable
People often assume that the Amish completely shun modern technology. However, in the last century, they have gradually embraced aspects of contemporary life. Amish communities have started businesses, bought vehicles, and integrated into various aspects of daily living within the larger society. A lot of their ventures involve carpentry or farming, with them selling handmade products to the general public.
As citizens, the Amish are obligated to pay various taxes such as income and property taxes. However, unlike others, they don't contribute to or receive social security benefits. Instead, they rely on their church to support elderly members, adhering to their belief in community responsibility.
7. Military and Rules of the Law
Furthermore, the Amish are excused from Military Service due to their commitment to "non-resistance," which aligns with their pacifist beliefs. This principle extends to law enforcement within their communities. The Amish have their own set of laws outlined in a book called the Ordnung. This book contains detailed guidelines and the corresponding consequences for not adhering to them. The rules are meticulously written to prevent any confusion about proper conduct among community members.
8. The Amish are Divided Regarding Technology
Interestingly, each Amish community crafts its own guidelines about technology usage. Consequently, some communities embrace electricity and other modern innovations. On the flip side, many stick to the traditional image, refraining from using vehicles, electricity, televisions, computers, and other electronic devices commonly found in mainstream farming. They do, however, have the option to hire an "English" driver, someone from outside the Amish community, to drive them around. Some communities have even incorporated refrigerators into their homes, allowing them to keep their food fresh for extended periods.
Contrary to what many believe, the Amish don't see technology as inherently evil. Instead, they recognize its potential to lead to negative consequences. Their culture is deeply rooted in tradition, making them cautious about embracing mainstream advancements. For instance, they worry that adopting vehicles might phase out their traditional horse and buggy mode of transportation, a method they hold dear.
9. Photography is Prohibited in Amish Communities
They've prohibited photography to prevent nurturing personal vanity. Consequently, most images of the Amish are hand-drawn or painted, much like the sketches created during the abducted girl's story. Additionally, they opt not to attend college.
10. Education is at Their Discretion
The majority of Amish individuals go to school until they finish 8th grade, with roughly 10% attending public schools. Most of them enroll in private schools that teach both English and their native German dialects. In many places across the US, students are required to attend school until they turn 18 or complete high school. However, in 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Amish community, allowing them to conclude their education at the age of 14.
While a few integrate into society, with some taking a troubled path involving drug use, many actually aim to go back home and reunite with their families.
Society has gained a better grasp of the enigmatic Amish culture through places that welcome guests to share a meal, purchase handmade quilts, or tour their farms. Nevertheless, it's evident that the Amish remain deeply connected to their traditions, aiming for a simple and genuine way of life.