V. Family Structures, Courting, Marriage, Funeral
A. Family Structure
The Amish family is comprised of a large extended family. Families usually are composed of two parents (divorce is unthinkable), seven children (since no birth control is used), and often grandparents and close relationships with cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. Since the Amish don't have cars and remain largely in agriculture, families tend to stay together and keep in close contact, unlike in urban societies. This has allowed for extremely large extended families with much interaction. These large families provide the foundation of Amish society and for the welfare of other family members. This strong family unit is a major reason that most Amish become members of the Amish church. Another interesting fact about Amish families is the "Grandpa House." The "Grandpa House" is the additional house or addition to a house built to house grandparents after retirement (Hostetler 1983, p.33). After many years of work, the grandparents can be taken care of by their family and are very interactive with the grandchildren.
Amish courting practices, at one level, are surprisingly similar to that of the English. Like most Americans, Amish youth meet at group gatherings (in the case of the Amish, in church gatherings, youth groups, or singings). Amish parents give their teenage youth a great deal of freedom to stretch rules and "spread their wings," with very little parental knowledge or interference. This is to allow the youth to "get things out of their system' before choosing to become baptized Amish adults. After becoming fond of one particular youth, a young couple begins to court in secret. Often, the young male will drive the female home after church (with "fancy" courting horse fittings) or get together and/or they will sneak away together to be with each other while others politely ignore them. Often the young Amish man will visit the female at night and she will proceed to make him a snack. However, at this point they are under the careful observation of the church and family. Though there is some individual choice in courting, there is only a selected group that youth may associate with. Because of this, there is no room for courting non-Amish, which would lead to excommunication. This is just another example of Amish social control.
After the young couple decides to marry their names are "published" several weeks before they marry. Being "published" is the Amish way of announcing publicly a couples intention to marry. Most marriages take place during November and early December after the harvests (Good 1979, p.52).
Amish marriage, like the Amish, is a simple affair. The entire church will be invited to the marriage which will be held on a Sunday, as well as other relatives and friends. It is not unusual for there to be over 200 people at a wedding! Four hour services are held at weddings, usually beginning at 9 a.m. The sermon is long but is followed by singing from the Ausbound , the Amish book of hymns. The actual marriage consists of a blessing done by the whole community and simple vows. The communal blessing during a marriage is an example of the importance of community in Amish culture, unlike in American culture where two individuals fall in love and then recklessly get married. Also, at Amish weddings there is no fancy dress, ring, or kissing, though everyone is dressed in their Sunday church clothes and the bride wears a special, but plain, new apron that will be used for Sunday church. After services, a large meal is served, with dishes brought from all of the visiting families. For the couple's honeymoon, they will travel for several months to visit with families in their church and friends. It is during their honeymoon that they will also receive their wedding gifts at each visit, largely practical items that they will need for their new home and life.
Death is also treated simply. Most Amish bury their dead three days after death. They are buried in their Sunday clothes with the women in the apron they were married in. Coffins are usually simple and made of wood (Good 1979, pp.66,68). The whole church attends and contributes to the meal afterward.
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