Ain’t no party like an Amish party, because there are no Amish parties.
Pennsylvania Dutch, or the Plain Dutch, go to great lengths to preserve their culture. This insular religious community does an impressive job of maintaining a lifestyle that has been around for over 300 years. And that’s just their time in America.
For the most part, the Amish don’t like to mingle with the “English” (non-Amish Americans), but they’re pretty open about their lifestyle and very good at keeping records, so we know quite a bit about them.
1. First off, they’re not Dutch.
They actually emigrated from Germany and Switzerland. “Dutch” in this case is a corruption of “Deutsch” which means German (although the word Deutsch comes from the Old English word Dutch, which means “people.” Keep up.)
2. Not all of the Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish.
Many who arrived in America were Lutheran or reformed. The Amish were part of the Mennonite sect but broke off to follow Jakob Ammann, who preached stricter adherence to a modest, austere lifestyle. That’s saying something, because the Mennonites weren’t exactly what you would call easygoing.
There are no known images of Ammann. The Wikipedia image is literally a sketch by some random guy based off of physical descriptions.
4. You have to consent to being baptized.
The Amish are Anabaptists, which means that they believe a person can only truly accept God once they are old enough to understand what that means. Since infants are generally considered not to have that mental capacity, community members can be baptized starting at age 16.
3. They came to Pennsylvania to escape persecution and war.
Anabaptists were not welcome in most parts of Germany and Switzerland. Their refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Catholic church made them targets of the government. It might have also been because they were sort of huge party poopers. If that wasn’t enough, the French invaded their home in the Rhine Valley. In 1681, William Penn declared religious freedom in Pennsylvania. The PD started arriving in 1863.
4. But they also have settlements in Ohio, Indiana, and Canada.
There are eight main American affiliations: Lancaster, Elkhart-LaGrange, Holmes Old Order, Buchanan Medford, Swiss-Adams, Geauga, Geauga II, and Swartzentruber.
5. Non-Anabaptist Pennsylvania Dutch are called “Fancy Dutch.”
6. The Civil War presented a moral dilemma for them.
The Amish were abolitionists. However, like the Quakers, they were pacifists (another reason that they were so disliked back in Germany) so they couldn’t fight in the war against slavery. As a matter of fact, their religion restricts them from any kind of political involvement. They can’t even sue in a court of law.
7. Social Security is blasphemy.
According to Amish beliefs, relying on insurance means that you don’t trust God enough to take care of you. When Congress passed a new Social Security bill in 1954, the Amish took a hard pass and asked for an exemption from the tax, which the government granted in 1965.
8. Formal education ends at age 14.
The US Supreme Court ruling in Wisconsin v Yoder (1972) exempted Amish children from attending school after the eighth grade.
9. Rumspringa is not as cool as TV wants you to think it is.
Rumspringa is the noun form of the Pennsylvania German word Rumspringen, or “to run around.” It really just refers to a time of adolescence, not the practice of rebelling against the rules of the church. The reason why Americans think it’s some never-ending rager with drunken, pants-less teenagers is because of an incident in 1998, when a group of Amish kids in Lancaster were caught selling coke. In reality, things are usually way more tame. Some kids decided to experience the outside world by driving cars and going to the movies, but most just continue to follow the rules of the community the same way they always have. True, they’re granted more leniency (they aren’t technically a part of the church, since they haven’t been baptized), but it depends on the community. Smaller communities usually require adult supervision during youth activities, whereas teenagers in bigger communities can get away with more. The New Order Amish don’t even participate in the tradition.
The point Rumspringa isn’t to show kids how awesome delinquency is (although who doesn’t love a good crack-smoking session while talking to demons through a ouija board?); it’s to show young Amish people that it is ultimately their choice whether or not to accept the tenets of the community. Some 90% decide to join the church. Another reason is to find a suitable spouse–Rumspringa officially ends with marriage.
10. You can take pictures of them, but don’t expect to get Blue Steel.
The reason that they don’t like to be photographed isn’t because they believe that they’ll lose a part of their soul. They just take the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt not make a graven image unto thyself,” very seriously. It’s also seen as prideful to pose for a picture, which is a big no. They allow photographs of them living their daily lives, but they will not allow face-on shots.
I would say goodbye in Pennsylvanian German, but there’s no word for it, so…