5 Favorite Amish Pastimes

How do Amish spend their free time? Amish fill their leisure hours with a variety of activities, including:

1. Board games- Tailor-made to winter days around the kitchen table.  Scrabble, Settlers of Catan, Monopoly are among the favorites.

2. Hunting– A male pastime.  Occasionally females participate as well (more likely if you’re sister to, say, 8 older brothers).

Goldfinch Ohio3. BirdingHunting without the guns. Amish birders rack up large lists of sightings. Wildly popular in some places, less so in others.  On that, Rich Stevick writes: “I also wonder why there are so few avid Amish birders in Lancaster County compared to impressive numbers of Amish birders in Ohio and Indiana, for example. I think I could count on one hand the number of practicing birders in Lancaster Co…I’m still puzzled by this discrepancy so feel free to post your hypotheses.”

4. Yodeling– This is only seen in a limited group of Amish–mainly the Swiss Amish of Adams County, IN.  In the book Plain Diversity, Steven Nolt and Thomas Meyers explain: “They yodel both German-language folksongs, such as “Mie Fater ish a Kahser Zieh” and “Tiggy, Tiggy,” and English-language ballads, including “I left my Gal in the Mountain,” “Blue Moon,” and “Yodel Sweet Molly.” Many of these English lyrics are in the vein of traditional love songs or accounts of desperados-yodels that the church does not approve. The presence of such deviant English songs may be puzzling, but they point to the strength of the ethnic tradition among the Swiss group” (Plain Diversity: Amish Cultures and Identities, p. 62).

5. Auctions– Buy something, eat something, chat awhile.   Family fun, whether you’re 8 or 80.  This past weekend saw the Haiti Benefit Auction in Sarasota, Florida.  A good auction needs a good auctioneer, of course.  The Haiti bid-callers worked in half-hour shifts.  Some can keep it going for many hours, however.  The secret of at least one auctioneer?  A dab of peppermint oil in the mouth from time to time.

What could you add to the list?

Goldfinch photo: Laszlo Ilyes/flickr

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    1. Marvin Mohler


      I keep a Eulyptus Menthol drop in my cheek while crying a sale. It helps a bunch in keeping my throat clear. I so much enjoy helping at the Sarasota Haiti Sale.

    2. Al in Ky.

      I would add singing, visiting neighbors and relatives, reading
      books, magazines and newspapers, and putting together puzzles.

    3. Andrea

      Visting, reading, sawing, social eating, and i guess a much needed sunday snooze after church an eating 🙂

    4. OldKat

      Other than yodeling ...

      I’m pretty much in line with the other Amish past times.

    5. Jo Sweatt


      We don’t go out to eat or to the movie theatres, our pastime is going to auctions. I may not get alot, but I enjoy people watching. The last auction we went to in Senatobia, a gentleman prayed before the auction began. It was awesome. Then the auctioneer was a female(first one I have seen). She did a great job.

      We have had several auctions ourselves, to get rid of stuff. When we lived in orthern Vermont, we had everything auctioned off in a barn, then auctioned the barn off. It was moved about 12 miles down the road in sections!

    6. Michigan Mary


      The OO Amish friends in Ohio love to go camping and do so 3-4 times a year. It’s usually 2-3 families that are very close and they will campout on each others farms.

      1. Erin

        That’s interesting. I live in MN and there is a new Amish community in Central MN. I asked Mose Gingerich about a camper being in their front yard and he said that Amish wouldn’t go camping for leisure. He thought they had it to sleep in while finishing their home or simply got a good deal on it. Do your friends tent?

        1. Anne

          camping in MN

          Hi Erin,
          Where is the new community in central MN? Is it the one in Mora? That’s where our daughter-in-law’s family has recently moved to, so I am curious.

          And Naomi,
          My son and his wife sing together every evening they are not too tired to do so. We gave him a pitch pipe for Christmas to make it easier for him to learn new hymns and figure out pitches. Singing helps to quiet baby (6 months old) and relieves some of their stress. I think it also relieves the darkness of living in Northern MN this time of year! He would agree that is their favorite pastime.

          1. Erin

            Anne, yes Mora! I have visited with them several times and they know your son and spoke very highly of him. I am now speaking to another gentlemen that is helping them expand their CSA. They are going to hire a driver and deliver once a week in the St. Cloud area. I think there is enough demand for it and especially if they offer eggs and bakery items. Many of the local CSA are full. I also think that many people admire the Amish farming and would live knowing exactly where their produce comes from.
            Our family is renting a cabin in northern MN next month and I looked up how far Fertile is from where we are staying, but it’s almost two hours away. Does your son know the Amish community in Clearwater County by chance?
            Thinking of your son and his young family as its been bitterly cold this week! Even us born and raised in MN, it’s brutal. Lots of reading for me! Usually Amish fiction.

            1. Anne

              Thanks Erin, yes, they are having a brutal winter! I’ve been quite concerned, especially with the note we got from them yesterday. I may write a post to Erik to see if he wants to share more, so watch for that. Ed has not been there long enough to know some of the broader areas, yet he LOVES to get out and see different areas. So he may know about this one. Let me know if you think you can get to Fertile. They would love to meet you and I can direct you to their home.

              1. Erin

                I would love to meet your son and his family! I believe I have your email so I can send you a message. I look forward to hearing about Ed’s letter.

            2. Reading

              I have just started reading some Christian Mysteries. My first exposure was The Secret of the Amish Diary from the series ‘Amish Inn Mysteries’. I was so caught up in it, I finished it in one sitting. I’ve read the first two of this series and then found another series set in Stony Point. Equaling grab me and I finished it in one sitting. I can truthfully say that I am hooked on the mysteries. And they are so easy to read. My thanks to the many authors.

    7. Naomi Wilson

      More singing?

      You mention yodeling, but I would like to know how common it is for families to just sing hymns together. The Amish youth attend Sunday night singings, but are they doing as much singing after they get married?

      1. Amish family singing?

        Good question Naomi…my first response would be to say there’d be less singing outside of the bi-weekly church singing that everyone does. The youth meetings are 2 hours of ritualized singing each week. Some adults attend these in the supervised youth groups. Some men will meet during the week for singing practice however. As a family you may have a hymn or two sung along with a devotion though in terms of sheer time I don’t think family singing would compare to the amount of time spent by youth singing. That said there are probably “singier” families and commmunities.

    8. Roberta

      I live in NY, not in Indiana, so where do I find the words and music to “Mie Fater ish a Kahser Zieh” so we can sing it here? We have no shortage of cheese makers to sing it or oompah bands to accompany us.

    9. Rich Stevick

      Reading, volleyball, & yard sales

      . . . depending, of course, on location, age,their sex, and the season. From my observations, I would put reading at the very top of the list. Compared to us English, many/most are inveterate readers–“bookworms” in their parlance. With limited electronic options and gadgets, it’s not hard to see why. Among the youngie in the big three settlements, volleyball wins hands-down among most groups. In the warm months, going to town for yard sales is a big thing in the big-three, and if I may say it, females seem to be most attracted to these venues. Oh, yes, quilting is probably at the top of the list for older women, at least in Lancaster County and in Pinecraft, Florida. My two-cents for the day.

      1. On reading

        I still wonder when the Kindle in all its high/low tech black-and-white glory will become more prevalent in Amish communities…:) Rich maybe you have seen these popping up in your youth research.

    10. Tom in KY


      I hear some Amish like to bet on the fights put on by Lebanon Levi. (Yes I am joking)

    11. Sara Rudolph

      Amish birders in Lanc Co., PA

      As far as Lanc “birders” go I ran across about 30 last year when I was looking for Snow Geese. Lots of buggy’s were parked together; they had bought a hot breakfast with them and had been there for about an hour before I started! Also, some had bought their bikes (via on the back of the buggy) to use on the trails. Mostly women; a few children and males. Ages looked like they ranged from 3 to 60+

      1. Still catching up here after a couple days of limited internet time…Sara yes you saw how this is serious business 🙂

        On a long plane flight not too long ago I caught the birding film “The Big Year”. With 3 big Hollywood stars involved I guess there’s no question birding is becoming a mainstream pastime.

    12. sarah

      A favorite around here is fishing. The men disappear for hours on end to go fishing and sometimes they even bring home a few fish.

    13. Char

      On the Lancaster birding – probably all the development and traffic in the Lancaster area, as opposed to some of the quieter Amish areas.

      add: Farmer’s Markets; Mud Sales; Livestocks auctions

      also Sports: the boys like corner ball, and volleyball for both boys and girls

    14. Mary


      As far as ‘birding’ goes, Aden Troyer, an old order Amish, from Juniata Co. Pa. is an avid birder. He wrote a book on birds, and heard say he is one of the top birders east of the Mississippi. He is widely known for his knowledge on birds. He takes groups of people, schools, Audubon fans, etc. on discovery trails on his own property. He has traveled great distances over the country birding. He is 64 years old now, and has a “LIFE” list of birds, as well as a “YEARLY” list since he was a teenager! Yes, one can even find his name online!!
      He’s the one who got me interested in birding when I was just a very young kid! Although I’m no longer into it. (I am his sister)

      1. Rich S

        Comment for Mary

        Hi, Sister Mary, I learned about Aden almost twenty years ago from a Amish acquaintance in Perry County. He gave my name to Aden, Aden called me one day, and the rest is history. We have birded with Aden and Mary many times over the years, most recently to Labroador/Newfoundland in 2011 and west to Colorado in 2012. Aden is an amazing birder, mentor, and friend–and he is blessed with wife, Mary, plus a birding freindschaft. I had a nearby school student in Junianta county tell me “Every boy in our class is a birder.” I think it was true, and I’m sure Aden’s influence ignited that interest. Rich Stevick

    15. Lattice

      Well, as odd as it might sound, I’m adding “funerals” to the list of favorite pastimes.

      Aside from having the purpose of showing family love and support, funerals are also a social event that most Amish go to great lengths to take part. Amish don’t want to miss a funeral.

    16. Alice Mary

      How do Amish spend their free time?

      I wonder what Amish kids would answer when asked that question? Or, Amish teens?

      The phrase “free time” almost seems an oxymoron when applied to the Amish. I always think of them as working,, working, working—I mean, quilting, for example, seems quite labor intensive, and a “practical” item is being made (sometimes for donation or charity sales). Hunting brings food to the table.

      How much influence does the church district have over “free time” activities?

      Alice Mary

      1. Social pressure and custom would mean some things are not considered proper. Although that same concept would apply (albeit to a different degree) for many non-Amish as well. Things like sports participation may be acceptable in some situations and not in others, while attendance at games as a spectator is not encouraged. Those are two sides of a coin that most English don’t have much of a problem with but which create issues for Amish churches.

    17. Guess not in Lancaster

      Sure don’t know the difference from a hawk or an eagle, can’t say I would either, and I also have free range chickens that I would be shooting at something dropping out of the sky on them.
      Here’s todays news article about Mr. Zook that shot a bald eagle he thought was a red tailed hawk, and can receive up to 2 years and up to $5000 fine;
      Darn good shot with a 22 if you ask me.

      1. Bald eagle shot near Leola

        I saw that Paul. For this farmer’s sake I hope this is another case of the potential maximum penalties sounding scary but well outweighing what is given in reality. A max of two years in prison seems highly excessive. Especially as it sounds like the farmer was forthcoming and that it was a mistake as he’d previously shot hawks preying on his chickens.

        I guess the good side of this story is that the bald eagle seems to have bounced back. I’ve never been a big save the animals person, but I do remember as a young schoolkid in the 80s worrying about these birds not coming back.

        “As recently as 1980, there were only three pairs of nesting eagles in Pennsylvania. In 2011, there were 217 nesting pairs.

        The same week that Zook allegedly shot the eagle, a birdwatcher counted 40 bald eagles in trees near Strasburg.”

        Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/806328_Amish-farmer-charged-with-killing-young-eagle.html#ixzz2Iug0zRK1

    18. Lydia Wallace

      Elk Viewing, Attending Outdoor Dramas

      I have seen a large busload of Amish viewing the Pennsylvania elk herd in Benezette PA. I witnessed an Amish family group at the outdoor drama Trumpet in the Land, a Revolutionary War era play about the martyrdom of Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutten, OH, in New Philadelphia, OH. I also know some very well-traveled Amish who have visited Nova Scotia, Western states, and various other places for pleasure. I don’t personally know any active Amish birders, but I have seen a number of Amish-run birding stores in Pennsylvanians and Ohio. Another pastime of Amish women in Rebersburg PA is making and selling greeting cards.

    19. Greg Wright

      Pastimes for our friends we know

      I know a horse collar maker in western Ontario. He used to tell me that every second Sunday (not church Sunday),he and the Mrs would put his prize trotter on the buggy in fine weather and see how far they could go in a day. One day they made it almost 80 miles round trip to Arthur,Ontario and back from his home !!! He was so pleased with that horse.

      Another time they told the wife and I they loved to travel. They travelled back to the old country via a big ship with a group tour. He found lots of his forefathers names on the headstones over there, His last name was Streicher. They loved to travel. One place per year. The over seas trip was a once in a lifetime trip he said. Rest of the time he goes to the leather auctions in the states and also visits relatives down there.

      They are such great people. He made my wife a belt while we were talking and gave it to her. Made of the thickest leather. They also love to tinker for a passtime. In Ezra’s shop he had fashioned his drive belt system for all his sowing machines for his leather. It was made with an old hit an miss engine from the 20’s. He told me thats lots of the lads like to make things for their shops on the downtime after work.

      Great people …great fun and we learn so much from them.

      1. Thanks for sharing Greg, sounds like quite a traveling couple. Sounds like a real marathon-runner horse your friend has 😉

    20. Barb

      Along with making cards (for giving and for sale), scrapbooking is very popular. Also hosting and attending home parties — Tupperware,Pampered Chef, etc.

      Last fall I attended 2 different “party events” — one held at a fire hall, one at a church. These are places where many independent vendors of home party items have tables set up and you can purchase items, explore their catalogs, and (they hope) book a party. It’s a low key fund raiser for the organization. There were several Amish vendors at both events.

      At this time of year, volunteer work can be a “free time” activity. I vlunteer at a material Resource Center with Mennonite Central Committee and this is a very large Amish vlunteer time — no gardening, farming, weddings, so they offer their free labor in the warehouse and the quilt room.

    21. stephanie

      Volleyball and softball should surely be on the list!! Certainly with our (the Beachy) youth but even our bishop has been known to go out on the field and play softball!! Board games are certainly a big yes and singing (at least in our church)you visiting and eating huge meals afterwards is great too :0) The Amish and Beachys love a “gathering”!

    22. Don Curtis

      Amish past-times

      I asked Mark what the Amish do to relax. He thought up a list.
      1. Board games in the evenings. But regular playing cards (hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs) are forbidden.
      2. Singing. Often families will gather around the kitchen table and sing hymns.
      3. Reading. Lots and lots or reading.
      4. Visiting. Amish like to go and visit relatives. Go for supper and spend the evening.
      5. Youth activities. These usually involve some kind of service (helping out at somebody’s home, singing for a shut-in, etc.) This is often followed by a meal and weather permitting, volleyball.
      6. Volleyball is the number one sport for Amish youth.
      7. Fishing. Mark goes fishing every once in a while. He never did when he was English. Well, I never have so I guess he wasn’t raised to go fishing but he does now.
      8. Hunting. Big item among the Amish.
      9. Travel. Mark says you’d be surprised what globe trotters some of the Amish are.
      10. Correspondence. Amish people write a lot of letters. With all of their relatives, etc. they are often writing a letter. Plus they have all kinds of circle letters they are members of: birthday twins, occupation based, adoption based, medical condition based, all kinds of groupings.
      11. Mark says that right now the youth and some of the young-at-heart are skating and playing ice hockey on the frozen ponds.
      12. Some of the Amish are avid bird-watchers. They’ll spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on top-notch binoculars and spotting scopes.

    23. Anne

      Way to go Mark!

      This is a great list Don. Sounds like the one my son would have made had I been able to ask him…

      Thanks for sharing it!

    24. Linda

      At the June 2013 Amish America: Plain Technology conference at Elizabethtown, PA, it was brought out that the number one pastime for the Amish is visiting. Recently I asked an Amishman to guess what the number one sport or hobby is, and he said, “Eating!”

    25. Alice Mary

      What a hoot!

      I had to laugh at your post, Linda! Judging by the ever expanding girth of America in general, I’d say eating is definitely our #1 sport/hobby, Amish or not! 🙂

      Alice Mary