Still More about the Illinois Amish (4)

How does a barn raising work?

A barn-raising is a community endeavor for the Amish. At daybreak, the Amish buggies arrive at the farm where the barn is to be erected. An experienced Amish carpenter/contractor is in charge and men are assigned to various areas of work. Often the framing is completed before the noon meal and in the afternoon the roofing is installed. Meanwhile, the women are preparing a delicious noon meal, sometimes served outdoors. There is always prayer before a meal is served. The children play games and are available to run errands. But they also have a most exciting day as spectators at a truly amazing project of brotherly love—building a barn in one day. Barn raisings in the Arthur area are rare, as few large farms remain and many Amish families turn towards small manufacturing as a way to earn income at home.

Do the Amish still milk their cows by hand?

Very few Amish, if any, do their milking by hand. Today they have modern milking equipment — not electric, but operated by alternate sources of power. In order to ship milk, the Amish must have modern refrigerated milk tanks. They also have modern barn-cleaning equipment. Children get involved in daily chores at a very early age — even before they start school. However, the chores are suited to the age of the child.

What crops are grown on an Amish farm?

The main crops raised by Amish in order of acreage, are corn, hay, wheat, tobacco (zero around Arthur), soybeans, barley, potatoes, and other vegetables. Farmers also grow various grasses for grazing. Corn, grain, and hay crops usually stay on the farm for feeding livestock. Tobacco, potatoes, some grain and hay plus vegetables are raised for marketing. Farming is done using horsedrawn equipment with metal wheels. Rubber, inflated tires are not used.

What are the Amish courting rituals?

For many of the Old Order Amish young people, pairing up begins at Sunday evening singings, The boy will take the girl home in his buggy. The couple is secretive about their friendship and courtship. Several days to two weeks before the wedding, the couple is published in church and their intentions to marry are made known. Weddings are held in November, or at the very latest in early December. That’s after the busy fall harvesting season is over. Weddings are on Tuesdays or Thursdays-the least busy days of the week on an Amish farm. The wedding is held at the home of the bride and the sermon and ceremony will last about four hours. Weddings usually begin at 8:30 a.m. There are no kisses, rings, photography, flowers or caterers. There are usually 200 or more guests. After the wedding there will be a delicious dinner of chicken, filling, mashed potatoes, gravy, ham, relishes, canned fruit, plus many kinds of cookies, cakes and pies.

Do Amish women still use midwives for childbirth?

Some Amish women go to English doctors and have their babies in local hospitals; others go to birthing centers; and some choose to have midwives who will deliver the babies at home. It is a matter of preference.

Why are Amish schools different?

School for Old Order Amish and Mennonites is only a part of the learning necessary for preparation for the adult world. Children have formal schooling in one-room schools to 8th grade and then have a structured learning program supervised by their parents. Classes in the one-room Amish schools are conducted in English, and the children learn English when they go to school. The teachers are Amish and they have no more than an eighth grade education themselves. When the landmark United States Supreme Court decision of 1972 gave exemption for Amish and related groups from state compulsory attendance laws beyond the eighth grade, Chief Justice Burger wrote: β€œIt is neither fair nor correct to suggest that the Amish are opposed to education beyond the eighth grade level. What this record shows is that they are opposed to conventional formal education of the type provided by a certified high school because it comes at the child’s crucial adolescent period of religious development.”

In Arthur, the public school system offers self contained classrooms that are available to Amish that may not be able to afford the cost of the parochial schools. The classrooms offer special courses that meet the Amish needs, while not pursuing the advanced education in the regular school system. Some Amish children do attend the regular school classes, while continuing to grow up in the Amish faith.

Mennonites, on the other hand, have dozens of parochial elementary schools, more than 20 high schools, eleven colleges, and three seminaries sponsored by Mennonite groups in North America. Mennonite families choose whether to send their children to public or church-sponsored schools. Higher education became a vocational necessity as Mennonites left the farm. Missions and service opportunities also gave rise to the need for higher education.

Do Amish families play games?

Yes, Amish families do play games and read together in the evenings. Parents are involved in their children’s activities. However, there are not long evenings in an Amish family. When the children get home from school, there are chores that must be done. At an early age, children have responsibilities assigned to them. After the evening meal, the school homework must be tackled, and before long it is bedtime. Amish are early risers and therefore go to bed early.

Is it true that dolls for girls have no faces?

Years ago, most of the dolls for little girls were rag dolls without faces. The Amish have retained this custom. We believe the reason is similar to the refusal to have pictures of people and is linked to the second commandment. (Exodus 20:4-6) At an early age children are learning not to have images, likenesses, or idols.

How do the Amish hold a funeral?

In the Arthur area, funeral and burial usually takes place three days after death. A funeral director from the local area assists in a minimal way, which usually includes embalming, and sometimes includes supplying the coffin and the hearse. In death, as in life the simplicity is evident. A plain wooden coffin is built. Often it is six-sided with a split lie – the upper part is hinged so it can be opened for viewing the body. During the visitation, the deceased is laid on an open table. Mourners pass by and then pay their respects to the survivors and family similar to an “English” visitation. It is very simple – no ornate carving or fine fabrics. Traditionally a woman will wear the white apron she wore on her wedding day. In some Amish communities both men and women wear white for burial. The tone of the two-hour Amish funeral service is hopeful, yet full of admonition for the living. There are no eulogies. Respect for the deceased is expressed, but not praise. A hymn is spoken but not sung. There are no flowers. The grave is hand dug in an Amish church district cemetery. There will be only a simple tombstone to mark the spot, much like all the other tombstones in the cemetery – in death as in life, we are all equal and do not elevate one person above another. After the services food is provided to the group, as many people travel a long way to participate as a community in the loss.

What holidays do the Amish celebrate and why?

Holidays observed by the Amish are the religious holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, “Old Christmas” (Jan 6), Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost). The reasons for these observances are to fast and meditate on scriptures related to these days. We should also mention that December 25 is a solemn celebration of Christ’s birth and second Christmas on December 26 is a time for visiting and family dinners.

Many Arthur Amish businesses close on our regular holidays such as July 4, Labor Day and such, and time is often spent with family and friends.

What are common Amish names?

According to John A. Hostetler, author of Amish Society, the most common family names among the Amish in Lancaster county are: Stoltzfus, King, Fisher, Beiler, and Lapp. In the Arthur, Illinois area common family names are Miller, Yoder, Stutzman, Hostetler, and Schrock. The most common first names for males are: John, Amos, Samuel, Daniel, and David. The most common first names for females are: Mary, Rebecca, Sarah, Katie, and Annie.

More Amish Info and FAQ’s about the Amish lifestyle and beliefs…