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A Guide to the Amish Way of Life

The Amish people are also known as “the plain people.” This is because they lead a very simplistic lifestyle that is free of the modern conveniences that the majority of the country takes for granted. This lifestyle is born of their religious beliefs, to which they are strongly devoted. To the outside world the Amish are a curiosity. Their method of dress, horse-drawn buggies and unassuming manner often seem like a step-back to a simpler time. While their lifestyle may seem unimaginable to people who do not live it, it is one that they embrace fully.


The roots of the Amish Mennonite culture extend back to the 16th century in Europe, where they were known as the Swiss Brethren, an offshoot of the Mennonites. The Amish culture is named after Jakob Ammann, who was a Mennonite leader in the 17th to 18th century. In an attempt to escape the problem of religious persecution in Europe, many Amish groups immigrated to Pennsylvania in the United States in the 18th century. Others stayed in Europe and merged with Mennonite groups. In the United States, Amish settlers spread as far north as Maine, Iowa in the west, and Alabama in the south. In the mid-19th century, the Amish community fragmented over discussions about how to adapt to modern society. The Amish people split into two groups as a result of their disagreements. One group took the name of the Amish Mennonites, while the other more traditional group took the title of Old Order Amish. At the start of the 20th century their population was less than 5,000, and as of 2010 their combined population was 249,000, according to the United States Census.

Religious Beliefs/Traditions

The Amish believe in one God. They believe that their faith calls for them to lead a lifestyle that consists of hard work and discipline. In addition to discipline and hard work, their religion also calls for them to lead a lifestyle in which they practice humility, calmness, and placidity. Standing out as an individual through self-promotion or self-expression is forbidden. They closely follow the word of the bible, which is seen as the Word of God. People who do not adhere to the teachings of the church are subject to shunning by the church and the community. Amish religious services are typically held within the congregation members’ homes. Mass often involves communion and foot washing. Adult baptism is also a tradition. Popular holidays celebrated by the Amish are religious holidays. Celebrated holidays include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Whit Monday.

Beliefs About Modern Conveniences

According to their beliefs, the Amish are not to conform to the world. For this reason they shun certain modern conveniences that would not allow them to adhere to their beliefs. The Amish do not use electricity, so there are no televisions, computers, or radios. Amish do not own cars, but may accept a ride from someone who does. Members do not own cars as it would create an inequality within the community. Photographs are also not allowed as it may cause vanity.

Schooling and Socializing

Traditional Amish schools are simple one-room houses where grades one through eight are taught together. Children attend school until they reach the eighth grade. It is their belief that education beyond the eighth grade is unnecessary for the Amish lifestyle. Following the completion of their schooling, boys and girls are instructed in the duties that they will fulfill in life. Boys are instructed on farming, while girls are instructed on their household duties. The Amish community is a highly social one. Women often meet to quilt together or may perform chores together.


The clothing that Amish men and women wear is meant to reflect their faith and express their simplicity and humility. Males typically wear dark suits with pants that are held up by suspenders. For work, shoes are brown, while more formal occasions call for black shoes. Amish men are also seen wearing hats when outdoors. Men wear black felt hats or straw hats in warmer weather conditions. The hat’s dimensions reflect the wearer’s age and status within church groups. The Amish women and girls do not wear pants. Their wardrobe consists of full-skirted dresses in solid blue, brown, gray, or green. Over the dress they wear an apron, and a cape. When in public they wear black stockings, shoes, shawl, and a bonnet.


When a barn needs to be constructed, Amish communities engage in what is called a barn-raising event. Because the building of a barn required more labor than a single family could muster, an entire community of people was typically called in to complete the task. The work was done largely by volunteers and would be completed in a matter of a few days, typically in June and July, which was the time between harvest and planting periods. The family that needed the barn would provide the materials, such as timber for construction. While the construction of a barn was a community effort, the resulting structure was owned by a single family. In turn, that same family would participate in barn-raising events for other families. Men carried out the construction work while women brought food and children were brought to observe and learn so that they could participate in the future. Barn raising is an ongoing tradition among modern Amish communities.


Most Amish people speak English and a language called Pennsylvania Dutch, which is similar to German. Pennsylvania Dutch is most often spoken at church or during meals. The Amish enjoy music, although they do not dance to music. Singing occurs in church and consists of songs from a German songbook that is called Ausbund. Children also sing religiously themed songs in school, prior to the start of the lessons for the day. Singing while performing chores, or working is also acceptable. In addition to religious music, the Amish also enjoy country music and may even enjoy other forms of music when heard outside of their community. In terms of instruments, they are not allowed to play string instruments; however, some may play the harmonica.

Rumspringa is a time when Amish youth are able to explore activities of the outside world more freely. This usually occurs at the age of sixteen. This is a period that occurs before they are baptized as adults and are no longer under their parents’ control on weekends. There are traditional activities that teens may choose to participate in within the community including supper parties and “singings.” Although community options are available, some teens prefer to visit nearby towns. This is a time where they are able to make a choice about becoming church members or not.

  • The History, Beliefs, and Lifestyle of the Amish People: This page includes a brief explanation of certain aspects of the Amish people. Readers can learn about the branches of Amish groups, location and language, requirements, clothing, and religion.
  • American Experience: The Amish: This is a PBS video on the life of the Amish people. The video explores the community, lifestyle, and faith of the Amish.
  • What’s Next With the Amish: This is a Time magazine article that explores the future of the Amish.
  • The Amish Mennonites: Read this historical publication to learn about where the Amish came from and how they settled in Iowa.
  • Amish Population Nearly Doubles in 16 Years: This is a NBC News article that explores the population growth of the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Wood Use by Ohio’s Amish: While the manufacturing of wood furniture has been on the decline, Amish-made wood furniture and buildings have grown in popularity.
  • How the Pennsylvania Dutch Got Their Name: “Dutch” is actually a mispronunciation of “Deutsch,” meaning “German.”
  • The Amish in Missouri: This is an article that discusses Missouri’s Amish community. Readers will learn where these communities are located and about their lifestyle.

By Alan Bernau Jr

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