The Old Order Amish represent a small part of the “plain” community. The traditional Amish home functions without electricity, television, and radio, for in those things the world enters and thus endangers the sheltered solidarity of the Amish community. Some are using solar electricity. Large spacious kitchens are the rule among Lancaster County Amish. Bottled gas allows them the convenience of gas stoves and refrigerators.
Plainness is in evidence in the lack of curtains and fancy wallpaper and pictures (except for calendar “art” which is permitted because it accompanies a useful item). There are no family portraits on the wall, no family album on the table, because Amish consider photographs under the ban of the “graven images” of the Ten Commandments. Window blinds are permitted but curtains are not allowed. In other words, the Amish live like other people, minus the frills.
Anything which increases contact with the world, like owning an automobile, watching television, listening to the radio is thus taboo.
When outsiders realize this principle, they can understand the many seeming contradictions, which otherwise would seem to be “Amish loopholes”, ways of getting around their own strict rules. For instance, tractors are prohibited for field work but engines are not. Telephones are prohibited in their homes but are permitted in an out-building or telephone shanty.
How They Travel
The Amish do not believe in automobiles, tractors, electric lights, radio or television. They continue to drive only horses and wagons. The reason for this is that their small socio-religious community, built on absolute discipline, would otherwise disintegrate.
How They Dress
There are two features of Amish life that particularly interest the tourist – the unique dress and the horse drawn carriages. The men’s summer wear includes a straw hat, made by the Amish. The men all wear beards but never moustaches. Their upper lip is always clean-shaven. Their vest and coats do not have buttons.
The men’s fall and winter wear includes broad-brimmed felt hats. The hook and eye coat is called a mootsa.
In the above picture, there is a pair of Amish elders in full go-to-meeting garb, with broad brimmed hats, hook and eye swallow tails and uncreased trousers. The men wear their hair long and have it cut and trimmed at home.
The men’s winter garb consists of a caped overcoat. When the weather is cold the men will keep their hands in their pockets for warmth. The Amish wear a distinctive garb to maintain a position of nonconformity in relation to the outside world.
The distinctive features of the garb of the Amish woman are the prayer veil, the bonnet and a regulation "cape," a detachable shawl arrangement over the shoulders fastened to the belt of the dress. Only pins - no buttons - are used to hold the dress together. The piece of cloth attached at the waist on the back of the dress is a symbol of humility to many of the Amish
The prayer veil is worn, the Amish say because of St. Paul's injunction in 1Corinthians that women must keep their heads covered "when praying." This scriptural injunction did not give rise to the prayer veil however, for it is merely a Pennsylvania adaption of the European peasant's everyday headdress.
In winter, shawls only - no coats - are worn. The Amish bonnet of today is an adaptation of the Quaker bonnet, which was introduced into Pennsylvania from England around 1800.
A water wheel used to pump water from the stream to the house and barn which may be as much as a mile away. It is a rarity to see one today, some use windmills or air pressure to operate their pumps.
The Quiltwork of Amish Values
Lovely Amish quilts symbolize the patchwork of Amish culture - the memories, myths, and beliefs that shape the Amish world. The value structure of Amish life rests on Gelassenheit (pronounced Ge-las-en-hite) - the cornerstone of Amish values. Roughly translated, the German word means submission - yielding to a higher authority. It entails self-surrender, resignation to God's will, yielding to others, self-denial, contentment, and a quiet spirit. The religious meaning of Gelassenheit expresses itself in a quiet and reserved personality and places the needs of others above self. Gelassenheit nurtures a subdued self-gentle handshakes, lower voices, slower strides - a life etched with modesty and reserve.
This way of thinking - yielding to God and others - permeates Amish culture.
Quilting bees and barn raisings mix goodwill, levity, and hard work for young and old alike. Other moments of collective work - cleaning up after a fire, plowing for an ill neighbor, canning for a sick mother, threshing wheat, and filling a silo - involve neighbors and extended families in episodes of charity, sweat, and fun.
Schools and Scholars
"We're not opposed to education," said one Amishman, "we're just against education higher than our heads; I mean education that we don't need." One-room Amish schools sprang up around Intercourse, Pa. and in many other settlements in Lancaster County. Some thirty to thirty-five "scholars" fill eight grades in Amish one-room schools. A Scripture reading and prayer open each day. The curriculum includes reading, arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, history, and some geography. Both English and German are taught.
LIVE the Amish Experience through your five senses.