In the land of rock and roll, the space shuttle, and computerized living, who could imagine that about 50,000 Americans do not use telephones, electric lights, or cars, not because they are poor, but out of choice? As hard as this may be to imagine, the Amish, or more properly, the Amish Mennonites, still live a traditional, rural lifestyle direct from 17th century Europe!
To understand these unique Americans better, it is necessary to understand their history. Beginning with the revolution started by Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 16th century, Europe was wracked by religious wars for several hundred years. Modern Europe is a product of these wars and of the political and religious philosophies of those times. The main figures in this tragic period were the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants, those who rebelled against papal rule from Rome. Among the thousands of splinter groups formed outside of Rome's religious rule were the Mennonites, a group of particularly conservative, rural Christians situated in what is today Switzerland, part of eastern France, and southern Germany.
To make a long story short, the Mennonite Amish were so conservative that they made more enemies than friends. In order to preserve their peculiar lifestyle, they began to immigrate to the British colonies in North America in about 1720 (before Canada and the United States were formed as independent countries). There they found the religious freedom they had sought. Amish settlements sprang up in the colonies and territories of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana as well as in Ontario, in what is today Canada. Surprisingly, there are no Amish groups today in Europe.
Little has changed about their lifestyle since then. Just how conservative are the Amish? A group of Amish looks like a cast from a biblical movie set. All the men wear large brimmed black hats, beards (but not mustaches), and clothes made by their wives. The women wear a hair covering called a bonnet, long dresses, and black shoes. Even though all Amish men and women marry, you will not see a wedding ring, for even this simplest type of jewelry is banned among them. The Amish are primarily farmers, and good ones, despite the fact that they do not use modern farm machinery. Their children are educated in local primary schools, but secondary education is in the home. Sundays are spent mostly in church. An old dialect of German mixed with English is used in church and at home. Their lives are uncomplicated and few Amish leave their homes to enter the mainstream American society.
Rural Pennsylvania where most of the Amish live is beautiful countryside. If you have the opportunity to drive through the gentle, rolling hills amidst lush farmlands, perhaps you will see a horse and buggy driven by a family dressed mostly in black. These are the Amish, an enduring and endearing people.