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The Amish: A Special Report
For many of us, when we think of Amish folks, we think of frugal living and large families living off of the land on farms.
When talking with a friend of mine, she told me that every time she took her granddaughter shopping at the local supermarket, she would have to wipe down the shopping cart. The Amish women where she lives would bring their children to the supermarket and most of them are unvaccinated. A breakout of childhood diseases that rarely occur anywhere else would suddenly start becoming the daily news story. (According to PBS, many Amish do vaccinate in today's society.)
As I was telling my husband about the story my friend told me, he paused. He then said, "did you just say the Amish people were shopping at the supermarket?" I said, "yes dear, that's what my friend said."
He looked at me and repeated the question as if I was landing in off a spaceship from Mars. "Why are you looking at me like that?", I questioned, to which he replied, "since when do Amish people shop at grocery stores? Their whole way of life is structured around living off of the land. They have farms. They grow their own food."
I thought he was over-reacting to what my friend told me. Obviously people need to go to the grocery store for various reasons. He was defiantly opposed to the notion that Amish people shop at supermarkets.
Not giving it another moment's thought, I was sitting in a doctor's office yesterday. They display the best magazines on a little side table in the waiting area. I picked up a back issue and started reading about how Amish people are taking jobs anywhere they can make money to survive. They can no longer afford to live off their own land because no one is buying their goods.
Well, after reading that, it sent spine-chilling goose bumps right through me! What does this mean to the rest of us? If Amish people aren't making it by their customary means of survival in these times, are we all doomed?
History behind Amish.
Amish people are known for simple living, old-fashioned dressing, women in bonnets, horse & buggies, and stead-fast resistance to modern conveniences.
They incorporate traditional Christian fellowships and ministry in Mennonite churches. Amish hold great convictions about their beliefs and are known as one of the peace churches because of their dedication to opposing war and violence.
The Amish church began in Switzerland in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Followers became known as Amish.
In reaction to religious wars and persecution, plus poverty, the Amish migrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Many settled in Lancaster County. Other groups later spread out across the United States settling in Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Maine. Eventually settlers crossed over to Ontario, Canada.
Ohio has the largest population of Amish settlers today.
Amish people reject pride, arrogance, and haughtiness. They place value on humility, calmness, composure, and placidity. They are usually submissive people with the idea of letting things be versus self-promoting or assertiveness.
Amish people believe photographs encourage vanity.
In 2012, Breaking Amish, an American reality television show, depicts younger generation Amish trying to break free and start new lives of their own. Soon after the show aired, it was revealed though, that these characters may not totally be true Amish, as many of them had already left their Amish families and backgrounds, marrying outside of their culture, before the show even began.
Amish and modern medicine.
Today, most Amish do not oppose modern medicine including surgery, hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, etc. They do not have insurance, but they help each other pay medical expenses when anyone needs financial assistance through their mutual aid fund.
Women and young girls wear long-sleeved dresses with full skirts almost floor length in solid colors. They wear aprons. They never cut their hair and wear it in a bun. They do not wear jewelry. They wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single.
Men and young boys wear dark suits, straight coats without lapels, trousers with suspenders, solid colored fabrics, black socks, black shoes, and black broad-brimmed hats.
By wearing these distinctive clothing, Amish people believe it encourages humility and nonconformity to the world.
Amish are famous for their beautiful quilts. Here's a fine example of a quilted table topper.
Amish people use old-fashioned horse and buggies to get around most of the time. Horse and buggies come in several colors including black, gray, white and some have a different colored top.
Amish are not opposed to riding in an automobile. Amish have accepted modern conveniences to meet their basic living needs. They will not compromise their social structure however. While they do not own cars, they will accept a ride in one hired at their own expense to travel from place to place. Car ownership would create a division in the community bringing inequality. It would create proudness, wealthy status, and speed up the slow pace of Amish living.
They will use them but not own them.
Amish do believe in using gas to operate water heaters and modern stoves. They also use gas in lanterns to light their homes, barns, and shops.
Why do Amish people forbid music?
Amish people believe that playing an instrument would be conforming to the world. It's contrary to their belief in humility and would stir up emotions.
Modern world collides with Amish beliefs.
Modern societal issues such as taxation and education are issues which collide with Amish beliefs.
On occasion, Amish people are discriminated against and shown hostile opposition. They have had stones thrown at them or their horses on the roads.
Most Amish children are schooled through eighth grade, believing that knowledge and training to that point is enough to prepare one for the Amish way of life. In many Amish communities, they operate their own schools.
In 1972, members of the Amish community and Mennonite Church were fined $5 for refusing to send their teenagers aged 14 and 15 to high school. The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this decision citing the benefits of a universal education do not justify a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. See Wisconsin v. Yoder.
Amish people do pay taxes. However, traditionally they do not agree with the idea of social security benefits and have a vehement stance against insurance. The United States Internal Revenue Service agreed in 1961 that Amish did not need to pay social security taxes nor would they receive benefits. This became law in 1965. This only applied to Amish who are self-employed.
This mission armoire will take 8-12 weeks to construct.
Amish religious beliefs forbid the use of electricity which they believe might create competition for status. They do not believe that electricity is evil, but rather believe it could lead to many temptations which would corrupt their church and family life.
Many of their woodworking tools are powered by hydraulic and pneumatic power that is run on diesel generators. Some technology is acceptable, and exceptions are made for craft that support multiple families within the community.
Superb attention is paid to the details in wood furniture. Each piece of wood is hand-selected and particular attention is paid to the grain. Furniture made by Amish is considered a green product. The Amish review their work as art and sustainable furniture that will be used for generations!
Mustaches are associated with military and are forbidden by Amish.
Amish in the news.
In February 2013, prosecutors sought a life sentence after a Amish bishop allegedly participated in beard-cutting tactics promoted to humiliate and punish other Amish. Once an Amish man becomes married, he does not shave his beard. It's a symbol of transitioning to an adult.
In Ohio, April 2013, one town served eviction notices on Amish families that built new homes without septic systems for their outhouses. The County Prosecutor told families that if they continued to make progress, no one would be evicted.
Traditional chocolate Amish friendship bread
Have you ever visited Lancaster, Pennsylvania?
How do Amish people survive in today's economy?
A basic way of life for early settlers and farmers was to live off the land. It's a concept not so much used any more today, but the Amish certainly are accustomed to it. When I read that article in the doctor's office yesterday, I thought if the Amish can no longer sustain their way of life by living off the land, what direction is our nation's outlook taking on farming?
It is estimated that half of the Amish community have jobs outside of their properties and homes. There are a quarter million Amish today and many do not have home farms. Some have resorted to working in factories to get by.
With the growing amount of Amish people and the increasing rise of property, the Amish simply cannot keep up with land acquisitions as they once enjoyed to pass land from one generation to another.
Younger generation Amish are deciding more frequently to move away from farming all together.
Many Amish sell their intricately crafted handmade furniture, quilts and deliciously handmade breads. However, not all Amish people can sell their wares which causes many to find work outside of Amish traditions.
The news of American Amish cultures dwindling has left me feeling very sad.
A part of American culture and history are farms that were established years ago that fed generations before our time.
Hearing that Amish communities are no longer exclusively sustaining themselves from their own land as they used to be able to really makes it clear that times are changing.
Having said that, I foresee a trend. Not only is farming affected, but overall everyone from the mom and pop retail store, to online vendors in business for years have been facing hard times. It makes me think that there is something to this story of the dwindling ways of life we have become accustomed. It's time to start looking toward the future and not sit idle while change comes upon us when we least except it.
It's hard to accept change, especially when it affects our comfortable way of life.