Unexpected Facts You Probably Don’t Know About the Amish
Concealed from the rest of the world with their old-fashioned ways, the Amish population is rather isolated and rarely in the public eye. Often misunderstood, there’s so much more to them than buggies, bonnets, and beards. For one, they don’t actually go to church, and among their various, uncommon wedding traditions, Amish brides have a good reason for not wearing white dresses. The lack of electricity hides away a small, unique community with a charming culture few outsiders have witnessed, and one that’s definitely worth a closer look.
Amish men wear beards but not mustaches
If you’ve ever met an Amish man before, you’ve probably noticed him sporting a beard, but did you notice that he didn’t have a mustache? While it’s custom for Amish men to grow out their beards once they’re married, they must keep their upper lips clean-shaven. This is because they associate mustaches with military men throughout history, and the Amish are pacifists. Mustaches can also be a sign of pride or adornment, which is not permitted in Amish communities.
When it comes to Amish weddings, it’s all about the celery!
Celery is a staple in many Amish wedding dishes, including Amish casserole, where it’s mixed into a stuffing with chicken. Instead of flowers, one can often find jars and vases full of celery decorating the wedding tables. And a big hint that an Amish family is preparing for an upcoming wedding? They’ll be growing tons of celery in their summer garden to prepare for the occasion.
Many Amish are Trilingual
Amish children are taught English, German, and Pennsylvania Dutch (also referred to as Pennsylvania German) in school, and use the three languages throughout their communities. Typically Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken at home, while German is spoken in church, and English is spoken when talking with non-Amish persons.
An unmarried Amish couple can sleep in the same bed
Believe what you want about the Amish, but they’re not as prudish as you might think. Young Amish couples are often allowed to sleep in the same bed during their courtship to help form a strong foundation of companionship. However, the pair has to sleep fully clothed, and a large wooden plank known as a bundling board is placed between the couple to keep them from getting too intimate.
Not all Amish are farmers
While agriculture is still one of the most important industries within Amish communities, a large section of the Amish workforce is dedicated to construction and crafting. While you can definitely buy farm-fresh Amish produce along with baked goods, jams and preserves, cheeses, and other Amish foodstuffs at certain stores and farmers’ markets, more and more Amish are expanding into furniture making and other crafts and trades. Depending on an individual’s specialty, Amish builders work in various construction roles, including roofers, carpenters, and general contractors.
Most Amish don’t like having their photo taken
Several Amish communities don’t permit their photos to be taken, as they believe personal photographs can accentuate vanity and call attention to oneself. Likewise, they don’t want to be remembered over the years by reminders of their physical appearance, and instead, wish to be known for the lives they lived. Because of these beliefs, you likely won’t find any family pictures hanging up on the walls of an Amish family’s home.
When encountering the Amish, tourists and other outsiders should respect their wishes. Most Amish won’t pose for a photo, though some will permit you to photograph them while they’re working, as long as you ask nicely and don’t focus on their faces.
The Amish live their lives based on a set of rules called the Ordnung
In addition to following many principles from the Bible, each Amish community has its own set of rules known as the Ordnung. Ordnung rules can vary from community to community but typically include dress code standards, approved farming techniques, carriage design requirements, and prohibited or permitted types of technology. Some rules are so distinct that you can identify what settlement an Amish person comes from based on the color of their buggy or how they wear their hair.
Many Amish couples get engaged in secret
Contrary to popular belief, the Amish don’t have arranged marriages, and young people are free to court whoever they like as long as they’re also a member of the Amish church. In fact, an engagement is a private matter initially shared between just the two young lovers. It’s rather common for an Amish couple to get engaged in the spring, then tell their families in the summer and the rest of their community in the fall. How romantic!
The Amish have strict dress codes
Amish women typically wear plain, loose-fitting dresses with aprons, while Amish men wear pants and simple shirts with suspenders. Clothing fabrics are almost always in solid colors, without patterns, plaids, or stripes. Both men and women are required to wear head coverings, and an Amish community’s dress code rules can dictate anything from how long dress hems have to be to how both men and women can style their hair.
Amish dolls don’t have faces
Like the Amish themselves, Amish dolls are clothed in traditional attire such as dresses, hats and bonnets, and pants with suspenders. As for the lack of features (we’ll let you decide if it’s cute or creepy), Amish dolls are made without faces to reflect the Amish’s commitment to avoiding arrogance, pride, and vanity. Modern toymakers have been trying to produce more inclusive and body-positive dolls in recent years, but the Amish clearly had the right idea first.
Amish families are pretty big
The average Amish family has seven to ten children, as they believe big families are a blessing from God. Additionally, because of the high emphasis on manual labor within Amish communities, a high birth rate means more workers to help out on the farm and in other business endeavors. With so many children, it’s not uncommon for Amish grandparents to have dozens of grandchildren and well over a hundred great-grandkids. Those are some huge family trees!
Amish people don’t accessorize
Jewelry, including wedding rings, is prohibited by the Amish to prevent vanity. Neckties and sweaters are likewise banned, as well as belt buckles, which is why Amish men wear suspenders instead. Some Amish communities also prohibit wearing zippers, velcro, and buttons, which can also be seen as too flashy and modern. In other communities, buttons are allowed, though they have to be plain and modest instead of gaudy or fashionable.
There are Amish communities all across the United States
As of 2020, there are 31 U.S. states with significant Amish populations. An estimated 350,000 Amish people live in the U.S., with the largest populations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is home to the largest Amish community in the U.S. with roughly 41,000 people, while Idaho is home to one of the smallest Amish communities with about 50 people.
Some Amish do use technology
Depending on the individual Ordnung, some Amish groups are more tech-savvy than others. Some communities use tractors, propane, and cell phones on occasion, while others prohibit all modern technology. A few of the more modern communities are even known for letting teenagers outfit their buggies with stereo systems.
Amish children finish schooling after eighth grade
After eighth grade, Amish boys are employed on the family farm or in a trade, while Amish girls work around the home or on various crafts. Most Amish children are taught in private schools, though a small percentage of Amish children do attend public school.
Amish elderly don’t retire
Instead of hanging up their hats and bonnets at 65, Amish elderly enter a “slowing down” period sometime in their 50s to 70s depending on their physical health. Their workloads decrease, but they still help their families around the home to the best of their abilities. Their family, in turn, cares for them into their old age.
Amish workers often use compressed-air powered machines
To comply with modern dairy storage standards, many Amish started using diesel generators to refrigerate their milk a few decades ago. Over time, these generators were also used to run compressed-air equipment such as power tools and kitchen appliances. Even sewing can be done via a compressed-air powered sewing machine, making the manufacture of large Amish quilts a breeze.
Instead of a ring, an Amish fiancée receives a betrothal gift
Since the Amish don’t wear jewelry, as it encourages pride and individualism, wedding bands and engagement rings aren’t allowed. However, on occasion, an Amish man will gift his bride-to-be some china, a clock, or another practical item that might be used in their future home once they’re married.
There are computers marketed just to the Amish
Simple computers that only run basic word-processing, spreadsheets, and accounting software have been marketed to the Amish for years, as they’re designed strictly for business use instead of personal enjoyment. DeskMate is one such Amish-friendly model, without any Internet access or music or video players.
Shaving an Amish man’s beard can be a serious crime
Typically, an Ordnung decrees that an Amish man may not shave his beard, though he can trim it occasionally. Shaving another man’s beard is prohibited, and in some cases, can be a serious crime with significant jail time. In one such case, the leader of a radical breakaway Amish sect, who went around cutting men’s beards by force, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
The Amish population is increasing rapidly
There are currently over 350,000 Amish throughout North America, with the population tripling over the last three decades. These numbers make sense as the Amish typically have large families of seven to ten children, while the average modern American family has only two children.
An Amish bride’s wedding dress is usually blue, or occasionally purple
An Amish bride sews her own wedding dress without a train or any fancy trim. After her wedding day, an Amish bride’s wedding dress becomes a part of her regular wardrobe, and she’ll wear it every Sunday. It will also be the dress she’s buried in one day. Wearing white would be impractical then, as the dress would show wear and tear with time.
Most Amish don’t play musical instruments
Playing an instrument is seen as too worldly and showing off, which goes against the Amish value of humility. The occasional harmonica or mouth harp is permitted, but little more, and dancing is likewise discouraged for being immodest. However, the Amish are allowed to sing and do so in church, during work, or around the home while completing chores.
Several organizations exist to help the ex-Amish navigate the modern world
Organizations such as the Mission to Amish People (MAP) and the Former Amish Reunion (FAR) assist former Amish men and women who leave their communities and wish to join modern society. These organizations provide resources to the ex-Amish such as helping set up bank accounts, teaching computer skills, and offering driving lessons.
Amish phone booths are more common than you’d think
Some Amish keep a landline on the edge of their property strictly for business purposes and emergencies. By keeping the telephone away from the home, the Amish feel that the distance preserves the barrier between the Amish and the modern world. It’s definitely nowhere near the kind of dependence modern Americans have with being glued to their phones!
The Amish do pay taxes
Whether self-employed or working under an employer, the Amish do pay income and property taxes, as well as sales and estate taxes. The Amish do opt out of paying Social Security taxes and collecting SS checks, however, as well as receiving workers comp, since their families and communities assist with medical costs and any other necessary needs in later years.
Many Amish travel, just not by plane
While most Amish communities prohibit driving and owning cars, they have nothing against being driven around by someone else. The Amish ditch the horse and buggy for longer distances and instead ride around in cars, buses, taxis, and trains. Employing chauffeurs and hired drivers is common when an Amish family is on vacation or when a family member has to travel to a job far from home. Riding in airplanes or helicopters typically isn’t allowed unless it’s an emergency.
Amish churches participate in adult baptism
Following Anabaptist traditions, the Amish do not baptize their children. Instead, upon reaching adulthood (usually between 18 and 22 years old), Amish men and women can choose to be baptized in order to officially become members of their church and community. This is done because the Amish believe that only adults can make informed decisions about their faith. Additionally, an Amish couple can’t get married unless both partners have already been baptized.
The Amish and Mennonites aren’t the same
Often confused with the Amish, Mennonites are a different Christian group with various similarities and differences. Both groups practice adult baptism and are pacifists, though in general, the Mennonites are a bit more relaxed on various rules, including having cars and electricity. Some Mennonites dress similarly to the Amish but often have notable stylistic differences, such as the men not wearing beards.
Most Amish don’t vote
In any given presidential election, only 10-15% of the Amish population votes. This is based on several factors, including the Amish’s pacifist beliefs and their communities’ emphasis on their own local, spiritually-based governments. However, participating in local elections is much more common, especially when issues directly affect the Amish way of life, such as zoning and land use.
An Amish honeymoon is spent visiting family
Amish newlyweds’ first night together is usually spent at the bride’s home. After assisting with the last bits of clean-up the day after the wedding, the couple embarks on several weekend trips throughout the winter to visit various new relatives and thank them for attending their wedding. The couple also receives the majority of their wedding gifts during this time, including household items ranging from cookware and tools to canned food and furniture.
Some Amish take vacation cruises
It’s quite the niche travel business, but actually pretty successful. Cruises geared specifically toward the Amish and other conservative Christian groups feature Christian music concerts, hymn singing, religious speakers, devotional programs, and other faith-based itinerary items. Common destinations have included the Caribbean and Alaska, while additional cruises to the Mediterranean, with stops at famous holy sites, are also becoming popular.
There are several distinct Amish groups
With over 2,000 Amish congregations across the United States and Canada, the majority of all Amish communities fall within roughly 40 distinct groups or affiliations. Each affiliation groups together similar Amish communities with like-minded rules and standards. The Old Order, New Order, and Beachy Amish are among some of the most well-known types of Amish. The Beachy Amish are among the most modern, driving cars and using electricity, while the Old and New Orders are more traditional and isolated by comparison. Traditional Amish typically outnumber the more modern groups.
Instead of healthcare, most Amish use alternative medicine
Since most Amish don’t have health insurance, they use alternative medicine to treat various ailments and only seek professional medical help when the situation is absolutely necessary. Most Amish babies are born at home or in special birthing centers with the assistance of midwives. If an Amish person requires an expensive surgery or other procedure, their entire community will pitch in to help cover the cost. In general, however, the Amish are among the healthiest Americans, as their farm-fresh diets and labor-intensive occupations keep them in pretty good shape.
Fall is the ideal Amish wedding season
Most Amish weddings don’t take place until after harvest ends in October or November, and are usually held on a Tuesday or Thursday. Amish weddings are often huge (400-600 people!) as both the bride and groom come from large families. After a ceremony lasting roughly three hours, the wedding reception begins and each and every guest is served. Due to the Amish’s increasing numbers, some communities now also hold their weddings at other times of the year, since October and November quickly get booked.
Amish small businesses are usually quite successful
One study reports that over 90% of Amish-run businesses last at least five years. Common Amish businesses include roadside stands, bakeries, delis, and construction and furniture companies. While some Amish businesses are more catered to the Amish themselves, like buggy shops that sell horse-drawn equipment, the majority of their customers aren’t Amish. To help with sales, many Amish often partner with the non-Amish to market their products on the Internet.
Amish funerals are fairly simple
Held at the home of the deceased, Amish funerals include a hand-dug grave, a plain wooden casket, and a simple gravestone. No eulogy is given, and no flowers are present. In some communities, headstones aren’t even marked with the deceased’s name, and instead, the minister has a map noting who has been buried in each plot within the cemetery.
Amish bridesmaids are called newehockers
An Amish bride’s attendants are known as newehockers, which is Pennsylvania Dutch for sidesitters. In addition to making her own wedding dress, the bride often makes her bridesmaids’ dresses as well. The bridesmaids don’t carry flowers at the wedding, and there aren’t any best men or maids of honor within the bridal party. All attendants are considered equals.
The Amish have some media representation
While a small corner of the publishing market is devoted to Amish romance novels, with the lack of technology, it makes sense there isn’t much digital content featuring this group. That being said, a few Amish-centered films worth the watch (regardless of some factual inaccuracies) include Witness starring Harrison Ford and For Richer or Poorer starring Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley. One memorable (and hilarious!) Amish TV appearance is David Rose’s temporary stay with an Amish family in the Schitt’s Creek season 2 premiere.
When it comes to food prep, the Amish are super self-sufficient
Nearly every Amish family has a huge, sprawling garden at home, and many families raise their own livestock, including chickens for meat and eggs and a cow for milk. In preparation for winter, Amish wives spend a great deal of time canning, and a few communities permit the use of gas-powered freezers. Those that don’t sometimes store frozen goods at a friendly, non-Amish neighbor’s. In these more modern times, the Amish do purchase some food at local dry goods stores and the occasional supermarket like Walmart, but a lot of their food is still homegrown.
Elderly Amish live in Grossdaadi Houses
Since the aging Amish don’t retire, they likewise don’t use retirement or nursing homes. A Grossdaadi Haus, also known as a Daadi Haus, is basically an Amish in-law suite. Oftentimes, the structure is either an addition built onto an existing Amish home, or a smaller house built on the same property. Once Amish relatives reach their later years, they move into the Grossdaadi Haus where they’re taken care of by their children, grandchildren, and other loved ones.
Shoofly pie is made with molasses, not insects
Made with molasses and plenty of brown sugar, the popular Amish confection is more of a crumb cake than a pie. While it can be served as a dessert, it’s often served for breakfast with a cup of black coffee. The origin of the unique-sounding name, “shoofly pie” likely came from Shoofly the Boxing Mule, a traveling circus mascot who had a brand of molasses named after him. If shoofly pie doesn’t sound too appealing, Snitz pie (also spelled Schnitz pie) is another common Amish baked good, made with dried apples and cinnamon.
Many Amish youth have rollerblades and bicycles
Besides horse-and-buggy transport, it’s common to see Amish kids traveling around on bicycles, rollerblades, and kick scooters. While these may seem like modern devices, keep in mind that they don’t involve electricity, just plain old muscle and a bit of balance, so they are considered acceptable in most Amish communities.
Amish reality TV is far from accurate
While perhaps entertaining, reality shows such as Breaking Amish, Amish Mafia, and Return to Amish have long been criticized by the Amish community for their fabrications and inaccuracies. The shows are often more about scripted drama, misrepresentation, and exploitation than any genuine facts.
Some Amish are homebrewers
Some Amish communities are pretty dry, while others make their own wines from fruits like raspberries, grapes, blackberries, and even beets. Most communities partake in twice-yearly communion wine and then the occasional glass at a wedding. Other settlements are completely against drinking and stick to beverages such as coffee and tea.
The Amish go through the drive thru just like us
Granted, not a lot of Amish eat out as it can be considered showing off and too worldly. That being said, some Amish do go for the occasional fast food treat at Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, etc. Some restaurants in heavily Amish populated areas even have designated buggy parking for dine-in Amish customers.
The Amish make a variety of handmade goods
While farm-fresh Amish produce can be a treat, many members of the Amish community are skilled craftspeople. Amish-made products can range from handmade quilts to children’s toys, gardening tools, kitchen utensils, wooden furniture, and baskets. Furniture, quilts, and handwoven baskets are among the most sought-after Amish products. Some are even available for purchase online, as many Amish businessmen and women have their modern friends and/or business partners assist them with setting up and running their own websites.
Amish teens can experience the outside world during Rumspringa
As a rite of passage for many Amish youth, teens who come of age have the opportunity to travel and explore the world outside the communities they grew up in. After their travels and having sampled the outside world, Amish teenagers get to choose if they would like to stay Amish, officially join the church, and get married, or leave their community forever and live in the modern world.
The Amish make some delicious doughnuts and other dishes
The Amish make a variety of yummy foods, from apple butter and pot pies to dishes like Dutch cabbage rolls and beef and noodles. Shoofly pie is one well-known specialty, and handmade Amish glazed doughnuts are another tasty treat. Traditional Amish food is usually pretty hearty as it’s meant to feed active, hardworking laborers. With Swiss German influences dating back to the original Amish that settled in North America, Amish meals are full of spices and sweet and savory flavors.
Most Amish don’t attend church in a church
The majority of Amish communities don’t have a dedicated church building for Sunday services. Because of this, worship instead takes place in barns, workshops, or even in a family’s basement. Other religious ceremonies, such as weddings, also take place at home. Church services usually last around three hours and take place every other Sunday.