Welcome to the Travel Guide for Lancaster, PA
The first sizeable group of Amish arrived in America
around 1730 and settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as
a result of William Penn's 'holy experiment' in religious tolerance.
The Pennsylvania Amish are not the largest group of U.S. Amish as
is commonly thought, however. The Amish have settled in as many
as twenty-four states, Canada, and Central America, though about
80% are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The greatest
concentration of Amish is in Holmes and adjoining counties in northeast
Ohio, about 100 miles from Pittsburgh. Next in size is a group of
Amish people in Elkhart and surrounding counties in northeastern
Indiana. Then comes the Amish settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
The Amish population in the U.S. numbers more than 150,000 and growing,
due to large family size (seven children on average) and a church-member
retention rate of approximately 80%.
The Amish believe strongly in education, but only provide formal
education through the eighth grade and only in their own private
schools. The Amish are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond
the eighth grade based on religious principles, the result of a
1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. One-room Amish schools are private
institutions, operated by Amish parents. Schooling concentrates
on the basic reading, writing, math and geography, along with vocational
training and socialization in Amish history and values. Education
is also a big part of home life, with farming and homemaking skills
considered an important part of an Amish child's upbringing.
The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture.
Large families with seven to ten children are common. Chores are
clearly divided by sexual role in the Amish home - the man usually
works on the farm, while the wife does the washing, cleaning, cooking,
and other household chores. There are exceptions, but typically
the father is considered the head of the Amish household. German
is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school.
Amish marry Amish - no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not
permitted and separation is very rare.
Symbolic of their faith, Amish clothing styles encourage humility
and separation from the world. The Amish dress in a very simple
style, avoiding all but the most basic ornamentation. Clothing is
made at home of plain fabrics and is primarily dark in color. Amish
men in general wear straight-cut suits and coats without collars,
lapels or pockets. Trousers never have creases or cuffs and are
worn with suspenders. Belts are forbidden, as are sweaters, neckties
and gloves. Men's shirts fasten with traditional buttons in most
orders, while suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Young
men are clean shaven prior to marriage, while married men are required
to let their beards grow. Mustaches are forbidden. Amish women typically
wear solid-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, covered
with a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, and wear it
in a braid or bun on the back of the head concealed with a small
white cap or black bonnet. Clothing is fastened with straight pins
or snaps, stockings are black cotton and shoes are also black. Amish
women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewelry. The
Ordnung of the specific Amish order may dictate matters of dress
as explicit as the length of a skirt or the width of a seam.
& the Amish
The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the
family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for
granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones
and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause
vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit
community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders.
Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live
in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies.
It is common for Amish communities to allow the use of telephones,
but not in the home. Instead, several Amish families will share
a telephone in a wooden shanty between farms. Electricity is sometimes
used in certain situations, such as electric fences for cattle,
flashing electric lights on buggies, and heating homes. Windmills
are often used as a source of naturally generated electric power
in such instances. It is also not unusual to see Amish using such
20th-century technologies as inline skates, disposable diapers and
gas barbecue grills, because they are not specifically prohibited
by the Ordnung.
Technology is generally where you will see the greatest differences
between Amish orders. The Swartzentruber and Andy Weaver Amish are
ultraconservative in their use of technology - the Swartzentruber,
for example, do not even allow the use of battery lights. Old Order
Amish have little use for modern technology, but are allowed to
ride in motorized vehicles including planes and automobiles, though
they are not allowed to own them. The New Order Amish permit the
use of electricity, ownership of automobiles, modern farming machines,
and telephones in the home.
Amish weddings are simple, joyous events that involove the entire
Amish community. Amish weddings are traditionally held on Tuesdays
and Thursdays in late fall, after the final autumn harvest. A couple's
engagement is usually kept secret until just a few weeks before
the wedding when their intentions are "published" in church.
The wedding usually take place at the home of the bride's parents
with a lengthy ceremony, followed by a huge feast for the invited
guests. The bride typically makes a new dress for the wedding, which
will then serve as her "good" dress for formal occasions
after the wedding. Blue is the typical wedding dress color. Unlike
most of today's elaborate weddings, however, Amish weddings involve
no makeup, rings, flowers, caterers or photography. Newlyweds typically
spend the wedding night in the bride's mother's home so they can
get up early the next day to help clean up the home.
Dos and Don'ts
When Visiting Amish Country
Whether you shop for local Amish-made goods and
furniture, stay overnight at a quaint bed and breakfast tucked under
an authentic Amish quilt, stop by local roadside stands set up by
the Amish to sell excess farm produce, or explore the scenic countryside
on a horse & buggy tour, a visit to Amish country can be a rewarding
and fascinating experience. From tranquil Amish farms and the clip-clop
of horse-drawn buggies to energy-producing windmills and tasty Amish
foods, there are plenty of opportunities for a glimpse into the
Amish way of life.
While visiting Amish country, it is very important to be considerate
of the Amish and their lifestyle, however. Just like you, they do
not solicit or encourage people to take their picture or knock on
their door. The Amish are private people who avoid as much contact
with strangers and the "outside world" as possible for
important religious and cultural reasons. When visiting their community,
please keep the following basic courtesy rules in mind:
- Don't stare, gawk, or otherwise be disrespectful of the Amish.
- When driving, keep an eye out for slow-moving Amish buggies
(especially at night), and give them plenty of room when following
or passing. Keep headlights on low-beam and stay away from the
horn, except for a short toot when passing, to avoid spooking
- Do not enter private property without permission.
- No photos or videos, please. Most Amish consider posing for
photographs to be an unacceptable act of pride and do not allow
pictures of themselves. The Amish will usually allow you to
photograph their homes, farms, and buggies if you ask respectfully,
but even this can be intrusive and is better avoided. If you
must take pictures, consider a telephoto lens, and avoid taking
any photos which include recognizable faces. A picture of the
rear of an Amish buggy as it travels down the road probably
won't offend anyone.
- Do not feed or pet horses that are tied to a hitching rail
or harnessed to a buggy.
- Out of respect for their privacy, it is best to avoid approaching
the Amish unless they appear open to company. They are just
like you and don't really appreciate strangers knocking at their
door. When you do have a need to approach a group of Amish,
it is polite to speak to a male, if possible. If you are sincerely
interested in talking to the Amish to learn more about their
culture, then your best bet is to patronize an Amish-owned business
and talk with the shopkeepers. Most Amish people enjoy talking
with outsiders, if they don’t feel like they are regarded as
animals in the zoo.
- In some Amish communities shops and attractions may not be
open on Sundays, so be sure to call ahead and plan accordingly.
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