Donald Kraybill is retired, but hasn’t slowed down much as far as putting out books. He has a new one out called Simply Amish, a short overview of the Amish.
He recently sat down with LNP/Lancaster Online to answer some reader questions on camera, about the Amish in general but with a focus on Lancaster County.
This spawned an article outlining six main takeaways from the talk. But the full discussion is over 40 minutes, so there is a lot more than just those six.
I have chosen five points I found most interesting from the talk. You can see the article and view the full Q-and-A session here.
1. The first Amish in North America – The first Amish settlement was not in Lancaster County, though this community is the oldest still in existence. Amish first came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s, and lived in Berks County near present-day Reading. The first lasting community in Lancaster County came about in 1760 near Churchtown. Amish have not existed in Europe for over 80 years.
2. Origin of Amish practices – Some Amish practices are simply older European practices that the Amish held onto. Don did not elaborate with examples, but the one that came to mind (which would be present only in certain Amish groups, as far as I know not in Lancaster County) is the courtship practice of bundling.
3. Weddings – Weddings in Lancaster County are held on Tuesday and Thursday. Why? It takes a lot of effort to prep for church on Sunday. Similarly, Monday gives a day to prepare for a Tuesday wedding, as does Wednesday for Thursday affairs. The church benches and other items used or church meals are transported and used for weddings. Weddings are typically held from late October through December.
4. The Spinner – This piece of technology makes life easier for Amish housewives. It’s a metal cylinder which spins clothing dry. It can be found in Lancaster County. Here’s an ad which shows what one looks like. There are models with both electric and air motors. The ad claims that it removes detergents, rather than drying them into clothes, preventing skin irritation.
5. Lancaster Schools – Lancaster County schools typically have a lead teacher and a teacher’s helper. Children are grouped by two adjacent school years (1st and 2nd grade, 3rd and 4th, etc.). They are called to the front of the class in these pairings and taught while the others do work at their desks or listen in. This gives the older children a reinforcement of what they learned before. All teaching and books are in English. There is very little science.