Lancaster, PA

4 Things You Should Know About The Amish When Visiting Lancaster, PA

Sara Melissa Frost

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Amish community in Lancaster, PA.Photo by Sara Melissa Frost

The history of the Amish begins in 1693 in Switzerland, with a group of Swiss and Alsatian Mennonite Anabaptists. They were led by Jakob Ammann, and his followers became known as Amish. The Amish people emigrated to North America, and in the second half of the 19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites. The latter does not forbid motor cars, whereas the Old Order Amish retained much of their traditional culture.

The oldest settlement in America

Most traditional Amish are members of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church. In the early 21st century there were about 250,000 Amish living in more than 200 Old Order Amish settlements in the United States and Canada; the largest were located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas.

The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County is America’s oldest Amish settlement, where thousands still live a centuries-old plain lifestyle. Tourists come to Lancaster frequently to see how the Amish live.

Here's a little crash course in a few things that can be useful to know about the community:

1. Horse and buggy

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Horse and buggy, Lancaster, PAPhoto by Sara Melissa Frost

Amish people have been using horses since the days when only horses made horsepower. The horse and buggy is their main form of transportation.

So, what do you do if you meet them on the road? According to PennDOT, you can pass buggies like you would cars, as long as you do so with caution. Car drivers can pass buggies whenever it is legal and safe to pass, and you should make sure there is plenty of space.

On Sundays, you are most likely to see the Amish people with their horse and buggy on the road, as they are traveling to and from their church.

2. Photos

The Amish do not like having their picture taken. They believe that that posing for photos, or willingly allowing them to be taken, can be considered vain or self-indulgent. They believe that items like personal photographs can promote individuality and, because of this personal photographs are prohibited from the home.

If tourists can't help themself but snap a photo or two it is most respectful to take so from a distance and make sure the Amish person in the photo can not be recognized.

The Amish usually accept visitors taking photos of their way of life, such as photos of their farms and horses and buggy.

3. Food

The Amish grow their food. They are considered excellent farmers, growing and storing the majority of the food they are eating. They also make baked goods. Delicious baked goods.

If you are visiting Lancaster, PA, make sure to stop by one of their markets or roadside stands to get a whoopie pie. You will not regret it.

Bring cash, as most of the stands are cash-only. Also, they are closed on Sundays as this is their day of rest and the day when they go to church.

4. Conversations

Can you talk to the Amish? If you genuinely want to know more about their culture, the best way to do so is to reach out to an Amish-owned business and talk with the person running the shop. In general, though, out of respect for their privacy, it is best to avoid approaching the Amish unless you can tell they seem open to speaking with you.

Faith, humility, family, community, and separation from the world are core elements of the Amish way of living. A saying is that the Amish are in the world but not really of it. They try their best, in their simple and plain way of living to maintain the greatest possible separation from the rest of society.

When visiting the Amish in Lancaster, PA, it is important to be considerate of the Amish and their lifestyle.

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Journalist and writer. I cover local stories + food, mostly from PA.

Lititz, PA
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