Amish weddings are normally held in the fall after the harvest – from late October through December. They are normally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thus during this time there might be several weddings in one day.
The Amish love weddings! Although the couple to be married chose each other, the parents are involved; they must give their blessings for the ceremony to be conducted. The announcement of the upcoming wedding is made at church after communion when it is “published.”
The bride’s mother is likely the busiest as they have a lot to do. Celery. Celery? Yes, they will need several hundred stalks of celery for the wedding feast.
The wedding is always held in the home of the bride’s parents and it appears like a regular church service. Divorce is not allowed among the Amish so it is a solemn occasions. After the service, all the benches are pushed together so the family and friends can enjoy the wedding feast. They have “roast” – a mixture of bread filling and chicken; mashed potatoes, apple sauce, creamed celery, cole slaw and other foods. Celery stalks with leaves are put on the tables in jars as decorations. When the desserts are served, they are delicious: pies, doughnuts, fruits and puddings. And, of course, there is a wedding cake. Most wedding cakes are made by the women but in modern times, some are bought from a nearby bakery. Sometimes there might be up to 300 people to serve at a wedding feast so the women have spent hours cooking and baking.
Fun time after a full stomach often includes the young people having a singing and many people stay the entire day. They will dine with the family for an evening meal and then sing hymns – called “faster hymns.” (in other words I assume not the hymns that take up to 10-15 minutes to get through all the verses).
The bride and groom spend their wedding night at the bride’s home and on the next morning, it is their responsibility to help with the clean-up of the wedding. Each weekend the couple is expected to visit with their relatives. This is when the weddings gifts are presented to them. By the following spring the couple hopes to be ready to move into their own home. All during this time the groom has not shaved – a married man must have a beard. So, unlike today when a lady checks to see if there is a wedding ring on a man’s finger, in the Amish a bearded man indicates he is married.
Funeral services are performed according to Amish tradition also. Depending on the part of the country, normally the Amish body is taken to a local funeral director who understands and respects their beliefs. Sometimes the funeral director will come to the home after the body is washed. He then embalms the body and dresses it in long underwear before placing the body in a coffin.
Amish coffins have six sides with two pieces of hinges that fold down to reveal the body from the chest up. It is lined with material that Amish ladies have made. The coffin is then returned to the family if it had been taken to an undertaker and the family dresses the body in white clothing. Men can only dress men and women can only dress the women. For men, the body is attired in white pants, a vest and shirt. For women, a white dress, cape and apron. It might be noted that the woman’s body might be dressed in the same attire as she wore on her wedding day.
The word is spread of the death to family and church members in the district; an obituary appears in the local paper. It must be noted there that Amish obituaries normally do not appear in the daily paper that the “English” (non-Amish) read, but in their own newspapers. The day before the funeral, which is usually 3 days after death, friends and neighbors are allowed to come to the house and view the body. Both men and women are dressed in black. Visitors are asked if they would like to view the body and if so, they are led to the coffin and a white sheet which has been placed over the coffin is pulled back. There is never any makeup used by the embalmer.
On the funeral day, a church service is held in the home. No eulogies are given and the sermon is many times on the story of creation. After the service, the buggies are lined up and the people proceed to the cemetery. Due to the large number of mourners attending the funeral, sometimes a number is written in chalk on side of the buggy to indicate the order they are to leave for the cemetery. The coffin is placed in the “hearse” which is shaped like a box and enclosed and pulled by one of their horses.
Once reaching the Amish cemetery, a hymn is read (rather than sung) by the minister or bishop and continues until the grave is filled. There is no singing at all. The Lord’s Prayer is prayed by all silently.
I will note here that in this area it is difficult to locate an Amish cemetery. They are not elaborately marked and the stones reflect the name, birth & death date and age in in months and days. Some of the older cemeteries have the inscriptions in German.
One tradition I’ve not covered is Rumspringa. That means literally “running around.” It is a time when the youth are permitted to enjoy freedom and are not under the control of their parents. The youth would not yet be baptized so are not under the authority of the church. This is a time when the youth can experience worldliness before becoming a member of the church. Some young people continue in their Amish traditions during this time, but many don “English” clothes, buy themselves a car, go to movies – some might even throw parties and mingle with non-Amish people. Some of the Amish communities do not practice Rumspringa. What happens to the youth? Some decide they like the freedom and depart from the Amish faith. But the majority return and settle back into the daily life of the Amish.
There are many other interesting facts one can learn about the Amish. Courting rituals, picture taking, shops where the English can trade. There are many websites dealing with their customs and lives. In Ohio I always go to the Amish communities to trade, visit and eat. Their food is absolutely marvelous. There are also several excellent authors who write fictional stories of the Amish including Wanda Brunstutter (whose parents were Mennonite, similar to the Amish in many ways), Cindy Woodsmall and Beverly Lewis. These write Christian novels; I’ve met Beverly Lewis and absolutely love her books. I am sure there are many more.
The Amish live a simple life without automobiles, televisions, electricity and many things we as “English” couldn’t be without. They are gentle, hardworking, friendly. I did not discuss their education (only through 7th grade) or many other topics. But hopefully this will give you a glimpse into those people you may see riding down the road in an old wagon pulled by a horse!