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Visiting Lancaster County: Amish Culture in Lancaster PA, a Real Cultural Immersion

Updated on June 6, 2011

Lancaster County Pennsylvania...

One of the most interesting trips I’ve ever taken is a visit to Lancaster County PA to see how the Amish people live. They are an amazing culture that has existed in the United States for at least a couple of hundred years, and in Europe for longer than that… They are very strict Christians that believe in living a life of hardship and piety before God. Their lives are very simple with no outside luxuries as we would define them, and as you visit this area you will be amazed at the history of the Amish and how they live their lives.

Lancaster County PA is probably closest to the Philadelphia airport if you are flying in, and then it’s just a short drive to the tourist areas. If you would like to spend at least a couple of days to immerse yourself in the culture, you may want to stay at a farm in the area and see how one of these first class farms is run. If you are interested, they will let you milk a cow or work with the chickens! There are also many fantastic bed and breakfasts within a short drive that will give you the experience of being in the country with a bit more luxury and convenience than the farm stay. These are very popular, and you can find several price ranges for your budget.

Horse and Buggies in Lancaster County PA...

The Amish people are very strict with their lifestyles and what they believe, and they do not want to bring in any modern day technology into their lives if they can avoid it, and instead of cars they drive a horse and buggy everywhere they need to go! One of the incredible things about this area is all the horses and buggies driving along the road on their way to church, the market, or socializing with friends. Actually, the socializing is intertwined with work or church activities, and their motto is “An idle hand is the devil’s workshop”.

Since they do not have any modern conveniences to help them with their work, it can take a lot longer to do simple activities that we would probably be able to do pretty quickly, such as washing clothes or drying them, and ironing. They do use a clothes washer, but it’s a 1920’s model or so and requires a lot of manual intervention. The Lancaster County Amish do not allow phones or televisions in their houses, as this would conflict with family time and socializing with no outside influences. They do allow an outside phone booth placed at a distance away from the house if necessary, and several houses may share one. If the farmer needs to call 911 or some other emergency, that is available for him to use. If they are waiting for an incoming call, they need to sit out there to wait for it, but the other party usually knows to call at a certain time so it’s not that long of a wait!

Amish Way of Life...

Amish Courting Rituals in Lancaster County PA...

The Amish do use natural gas in their homes for cooking and lighting, and they are not piped in but brought in through propane tanks such as you would use for your outdoor barbeque. The clothes that the Lancaster County PA Amish wear are extremely simple, and they usually only have 2 or 3 sets of clothes, for different purposes such as working in the field or going to church. Two different colors are used, and not many more if any. They don’t use zippers, but straight pins in the back to hold their dresses together for the women, and buttons and suspenders for the men. Pants are a no-no for women, and they also will start wearing a bonnet at all times sometime in their early teens.

Courting rituals are very interesting, and teenage boys are given a horse and buggy as their own around age 16, and they then have a “vehicle” to date Lancaster County PA Amish girls. Courting is usually centered on the every other Sunday church meeting day, where all families in the area go to the host family’s house for church, which is usually an all day affair. Each church group will have a set number of plain wooden benches with no backs that get moved from place to place depending on who is hosting church that week. Church will last for 4 hours on those backless benches, singing in Old German various hymns and listening to the sermon. Then once church is over around noon or 1:00 pm, tables are set up and all the women start helping to prepare the meal and serving it to the crowd, which usually takes a while. Once everyone has been fed and the dishes cleaned up, then the socializing begins. Women tend to bring their needlepoint or sewing and chat while doing that, and men are out in the barn talking with each other, and the teenagers are playing games such as volleyball in the yard. This is how the courting starts, and they see who likes who and so forth…

Amish Marriages in Lancaster County PA...

Marriages will usually all be held at the same time of year, in the fall after the harvest season. I think they have picked this time of year because it’s usually the least busy, and they can focus on getting the young people married without many distractions. Weddings in Lancaster County are a very big affair, but also simple. They are held at one of the homes, and everyone in the area comes and attends and brings wedding gifts. After the wedding, the newlywed couple then starts a month long “visiting spree” with friends and relatives. They travel to their house and stay a night or two to spend time with them and socialize and thank them for the wedding gifts. Once that is over, they will then usually live with the groom’s family, or they will have a house built for them on the groom’s father’s property and the farm is split up so the newlyweds can have a proper start for their new life.

The Lancaster County PA Amish are a very interesting people and have a very unique culture. If you get a chance, I highly recommend visiting this incredible county in Pennsylvania, called Lancaster! It has some of the most productive farmland in all of North America, and that’s saying a lot! There is also the Philadelphia PA area with its many historic attractions to see, so give it a try…

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