Photo: USA, Pennsylvania, Amish family in a horse-drawn trap, boys at the roadside (Getty Images)
Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows I’m from Amish Country. In fact, my dad grew up Amish just outside of Arthur in the heart of Illinois. But it wasn’t cool growing up as a kid in an Amish town. I certainly wasn’t proud of my heritage. It wasn’t until I went to college I realized the outsider fascination with Amish culture.
Below are ten surprising things about the Amish culture you probably didn’t know that are actually true.
1. Kids are not allowed to go to school past eighth grade.
My dad wishes he could have played high school sports, hell, even went to high school, period. However, the Amish tradition is that children don’t have any schooling after the 8th grade so that they can help on the farm or start on other jobs to help the family.
For those thinking, “Wait, you have to be 16-years-old to drop out though, right?” You would be correct, unless you’re Amish. A Supreme Court decision in the ’60s actually granted the Amish permission to drop out early since their religious tradition started long before the current day state laws surrounding education.
2 Rumspringa equals party time.
Soon after 8th-grade graduation begins the famous Rumspringa, which literally translates as to “run around.” You’ve likely heard about it, but there’s a lot of confusion as to what it means. It can mean a lot of different things, depending on the Amish settlement, the family and the teen who’s coming of age. But first, it certainly means you get to ski via horse and buggy.
Whether you plan to stay at home and just start dating, party on the weekends or you leave the community to become a regular American, Rumspringa begins at age 16 to allow teens to experience the outside world and make a final decision on whether they would like to become baptized into the Amish religion. They can take as long as they want, but once they decide to be baptized there’s no turning back. Once the Christian ceremony is over so is the Rumspringa.
3. They’re obsessed with slow-pitch softball.
But they can still have fun. Amish love sports. In Arthur, they play a lot of basketball, volleyball and softball. And make no mistake, some of the Amish teens are hella athletic, certainly good enough to play college athletics if ever given the chance.
For decades, summer weekends in Arthur consist of large softball tournaments that welcome teams from multiple states and include some teams with Amish teens on rumspringa.
4. They make the best cinnamon rolls in the world.
The highlight every time I come home? Aside from seeing family, it’s the Amish cinnamon rolls. Seriously, my final dessert if I knew the world was coming to an end. I highly recommend the batch from Yoder’s Country Kitchen.
5. They can’t pose for pictures.
It’s against their religion to pose for a picture. However, as long as you’re polite and don’t treat them like a zoo animal, they usually don’t care if you snap a photo at your discretion.
Here are some kiddos getting their picture snapped. They don’t seem to mind. They’re having way too much fun on this trampoline, which could be mine. I gave my trampoline to my Amish cousins 15 years ago when I left for college, and it’s still going strong.
6. They have their own language (and cell phones).
A lot of people don’t know that the Amish have their own language and English dialect. With the exception of Witness, which my dad agrees is stunningly accurate, the misrepresentation of the Amish language is my number-one pet peeve in movies.
The Amish are bi-lingual. They speak what’s called Dutch or “lower German,” which is actually a German-Swiss-English mush of a language. It’s a very unique, rural-type accent, which matches how they speak English. And yes, most Amish can have cell phones, as long as it’s not in the home and used for business purposes.
Photo: Getty Images
7. They celebrate Old Christmas.
While the last week of December is still the most wonderful time of the year, the Amish focus their biggest Christmas celebration on January 6, which is Epiphany, the day the three wise men visited Jesus and honored him with gifts. Epiphany occurs 12 days after Christmas, which is where the song “The 12 Days Of Christmas” originates and was the original Christmas holiday for centuries.
On this day, you expect huge family gatherings and enough food to fill the bellies of an entire college football roster. For the Helmuths, this means a lot of cinnamon rolls and indoor volleyball as well.
8. Some Amish actually drive cars.
This sounds crazy, and I wasn’t aware of it until a few years ago, but there’s a new sect of Amish called Beachy Amish who are allowed to drive cars. Same religion as the Amish but with some looser rules when it comes to modern technology. The Amish Mennonites also fall into this category.
9. They pay taxes just like the rest (or some) of us.
Yes, the Amish pay taxes just like you and I. Income tax, sales tax, property tax and local taxes, the Amish have to abide by the same tax laws as everyone else. However, they are exempt from Social Security.
10. They can’t listen to music or play instruments.
This facet of the Amish religion would be the deal breaker for me. Aside from the occasional harmonica, the Amish aren’t allowed to have musical instruments and they can’t listen to any music that includes them. This means no iTunes, Spotify, radios, CD players, walkmen or turntables. Nothing in the home that includes popular music. All singing has to be a capella and it’s usually done at church using a song from the Ausbund, their Amish church book.
But don’t worry. There are still some Amish teens cruising in their speaker-rigged buggies, jamming out to Sum 41 on their way to their next softball tournament.
Josh Helmuth is a sports reporter in St. Louis who is originally from Arthur, Illinois, the state’s ‘Amish capital.’
Josh is originally from the small berg of Arthur, Ill, proudly the Amish capital of the state. It also has one hell of a pumpkin patch.
Josh has enjoyed dipping his toes into a variety of careers since graduating from the University of Alabama, the most rewarding thus far having served as a youth director in southern California for four years, and his broadcasting career which has garnered two Emmy awards and three Edward R. Murrow Awards.
Josh enjoys loud rock music, Tom Hanks movies, dogs that like to cuddle and long runs. He is also always in search for America's greatest cheeseburger. Follow him here if you would like to be friends!