The Amish of Lancaster County PA are families, farmers and craftsmen who grace our small towns and farmlands by following a deeply religious, family-centered lifestyle through a simple way of life that foregos "outside world" luxuries. Yet the Amish have adapted in many necessary ways throughout the last 300 years, while remaining separated from the world. On the surface, the Amish lifestyle might appear to be staid and inflexible. However, it reflects a way of life that is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, as well as unwritten rules from the Amish Ordnung that prescribes behavior, appearance and other aspects of the Amish culture.
The oldest group of Amish are called "Old Order" and abide abundantly in Lancaster County. Old older Amish all drive horses and buggies rather than cars, do not have electricity in their homes, and send their children to private, one-room schoolhouses. Children attend only through the eighth grade and are usually taught by a young, unmarried Christian woman. After that, they work on their family's farm or business until they marry. The one-room schools restrict worldly influences and stress the basics such as reading, writing and arithmetic. At home and in their community, the Amish speak a dialect of German. This language, originally known as Pennsylvania Deutsch, has gradually became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Amish children learn English at school and also study High German for worship services.
Old Order Amish women and girls wear modest dresses made from solid-colored fabric with long sleeves and a full skirt. These dresses are covered with a cape and apron and are fastened with straight pins or snaps. They never cut their hair, which they wear in a bun on the back of the head. On their heads they wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single. Amish women do not wear jewelry.
Men and boys wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats without lapels, broadfall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. Their shirts fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. They do not have mustaches, but they grow beards after they marry. The Amish feel these distinctive clothes encourage humility and separation from the world. Their clothing is not a costume; it is an expression of their faith.
Amish do not attend "church" in the traditional sense. They take turns holding three-hour services in each others' homes every other Sunday. Worship services are solemn; hymns are sung slowly, in German, without musical accompaniment or harmony. Scripture reading and sermons in High German follow. The Amish are a private people who believe that God has called them to a simple life of faith, discipline, dedication and humility. Their conviction that God has a personal and abiding interest in their lives, families and communities is the force that holds them together in spite of the pressures of the outside world.