The Amish Way Of Life - The Times They Are A Changing!
Approximately an hour outside the city skyline of Philadelphia lies rolling green fields, farms with blue and black dresses hanging out to dry and horse drawn buggies slowing down traffic on major thoroughfares. The old world meets the new world! This is a glimpse of Lancaster County, the home to the oldest and largest Amish community in the United States. In this area, it is said that the population is close to 40,000. The Amish arrived here in the 1720's to escape religious persecution in Europe.
It is definitely of interest to those who visit this area. Last weekend, I took a friend I met in Croatia to this unique spot and our first stop was the Amish Farm and House. This home sitting on a 15-acre farm is the perfect introduction to the Amish way of life. We learned that clothing can only be solid colors and are typically blue, black, burgundy, brown, purple and green. It is said that the clothing encourages humility and separation from the world.
Clothing is made in the home and the Amish women's dresses would be very loose so as not to emphasize the female figure. Straight pins or hooks fasten the dresses. If a woman is single, she will wear a white apron while a married woman would wear the black apron over her dress. Unmarried girls wear black bonnets when they go out to signify their status while married women wear white ones. They are not permitted to cut their hair and married men can be recognized by their long beards. Once married, the razor is gone!
The Amish typically have between 6-8 children and are given chores starting at the age of 4 or 5. Children still attend the one room schoolhouse where typically 25 students in 1st - 8th grade are all taught together. They never go on to high school typically because the elders feel they do not need to know more about the world. (As a teacher myself, I can't even begin to imagine the organization that is needed to make this all happen successfully!). The Amish women who explained this to us said that homework is never given since the children have chores to do when they get home.
The horse and buggy is the mode of transportation and I always do a double take when I see them on major highways or hitched right outside the outlets in the area. It is always a clue to the status of the occupants inside...if there is no top, the couple are dating and they need to be very visible to all! Buggies can be very plain inside or very elaborate. This was the first time I was ever permitted inside one so I jumped (literally) on that one!
The only time that an Amish man or woman would wear white is when they die. The family would dress the body and then prepare the plain wooden casket for the visitation of the community. Hymns are sung, prayers are recited during this time but there are never musical instruments played by the Amish. The next day, the family and close friends are usually the only ones attending the burial and then there is a reception back at the home for the community again.
So here is the very interesting facts told to us by several Amish...previously, the Amish would have NO electricity or cell phones. Now, there are some districts where the bishop permits homes to have electricity. Many Amish now have cell phones but use them only for business purposes. Televisions are still not permitted but there are some families who have them in the basement and the boys and men gather to watch sports. It seemed as if now, bishops in some areas of Lancaster County are more liberal which surprised me that not all traditions were followed. Previously, it was very frowned upon for a person to photograph any Amish. This goes back to the Bible and was held as truth but now, there are some Amish who no longer mind since they are in the public places. If someone chose to leave the Amish community, they were "shunned" and considered an outsider and family ties ceased to exist. However, this was also changing according to our guides..."family is family and forgiveness is always given."
I have no idea how pervasive some of these changes in tradition are but it did come as a surprise that each generation of Amish seem to loosen some of the very old and strict established traditions and are immersing themselves more and more into the modern day. As the song goes, "The times they are a changing!"
Each spring, the Amish hold auctions and sales to support the local fire companies. Here are two videos I that have done over the years on this. (Just click on "Auctions and Videos" to see them if interested).