Amish 101: Phrases and Traditions

posted: 08/28/12
by: TLC
Read more Read less
The cast of TLC's Breaking Amish.

This information was provided by people living and working in the Amish and Mennonite communities.

For the Amish and Mennonites, there are many traditions and regulations that come along with the faith. Identifying as Amish or Mennonite means ascribing to both a religion and a culture. And while it's not easy living without certain modern conveniences -- electricity, cars, computers -- a simpler way of life is a cornerstone of these faiths.

While some may look at these customs as restrictive, there are many wonderful qualities of the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles, and that's why so many of the followers lead happy, fulfilled lives. The rules that men, women and children follow -- we'll take a look at them in the next pages -- help moderate the community.

In the face of catastrophe, entire communities will band together. For instance, if a house or barn burns down, the men in the community rebuild it. The women provide food for all the workers. This kind of support is a great comfort to the Amish and Mennonites.

There are consequences for breaking or disobeying rules, though. For a minor offense, one could be shunned for six weeks. Those who choose to leave the Amish faith for any reason face severe consequences. The community will immediately shun the offenders, and even their families won't speak to them for years. When someone is shunned, no one is to ever speak that person's name. He or she is dead to the community and the church.

Amish beliefs and rules differ from sector to sector, and from community to community. They're dictated by the church in each community. Let's take a look at different groups within the Amish and Mennonite faiths -- Lancaster County Dutch in Pennsylvania, Ohio Amish and Mennonites -- and examine some traditions specific to each one.

The Lancaster County Amish are very plain and practice a very strict religion, but they aren't quite as strict as some smaller Amish communities! In general, they have no electricity, no vehicles and enjoy none of the modern conveniences than most English people do.

The Amish refer to anyone outside the Amish sector as English. It doesn't matter if the person in question is from China, France, the United States, Japan or any other country -- anyone who isn't Amish is English.

Modern conveniences are forbidden for a simple reason: These conveniences inspire worldliness. The Amish believe that worldliness keeps them from being close to God. In addition to modern tools being outlawed in the Amish community, photographs and cameras are also not allowed. Pictures are considered graven images. The Amish define graven image as an object of worship carved usually from wood or stone; an idol. In the Bible, it's written "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." On a related note, fashion magazines are taboo. The women in magazines are considered provocative and make one dissatisfied with what they have. This dissatisfaction is a type of vanity.

In Lancaster, the Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch. The proper term is actually Pennsylvania German. The so-called Pennsylvania Dutch have nothing to do with the Netherlands or the Dutch language. They originally came from German-speaking areas of Europe and speak (or used to speak) a dialect of German they refer to as Deitsch (Deutsch).

Women must get up early each day to prepare breakfast and begin the washing, baking, cleaning, gardening, canning and sewing. Lancaster County Amish have propane-powered refrigerators and stove tops. Their warmth in the winter comes from either coal or wood-burning stoves. The Amish cut their own wood throughout the summer to last them during the cold winter months.

The Amish may use phones, but they are usually outside the house and often shared by two or more families. Their washing machines have gas-powered engines. They have to fill it with water, and all clothes are hung outside. Later in the day, clothes come off the line, and most of them have to be ironed and starched before being put away! Men's work isn't much easier; they mow their grass with small push mowers. No gas-powered lawn mowers are allowed.

At age 16, rumspringa starts! Some of the more rebellious adolescent men get short haircuts and wear black jeans with striped polo shirts tucked into them. They'll also wear white sneakers, and as long as they have not joined with church, there will be no consequences -- unless their parents disapprove and shun them. Some will even get vehicles and start driving! The girls, however, can never, ever drive or wear anything other than their dresses. Even on rumspringa, they moderate their appearance and behavior for fear of disgracing their families and themselves. They must always act like nothing less than well-behaved women.

The Ohio Amish are stricter than Lancaster County Amish; they don't have refrigerators, freezers, indoor toilets or hot running water. Ohio Amish women must also wear dark clothing, which is a different pattern from the Lancaster Amish.

Their buggies don't have sliding doors or windows like the Lancaster County Amish. With open buggy fronts, the Ohio Amish buggies get very little protection from the wind or rain.

Mennonites drive cars, even though they follow a strict religion. The women wear long dresses with their hair pulled back into a neat bun underneath a starched white covering. Wearing makeup is forbidden, and so is cutting hair. The Mennonites believe that one's hair is God's glory. Cutting hair and wearing makeup calls for great consequences -- anything up to getting kicked out of church for a short period.

More on
Recommended for You