Vindicator Logo

Community affairs

By Maraline Kubik

Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Amish weddings are rich in tradition, but simple by 'Yankee' standards.
MIDDLEFIELD -- Choosing a mate is a major decision for anyone. For the Amish, it literally seals each partner's fate. Divorce, no matter what the grounds, is forbidden.
Getting married is a serious and somewhat secretive decision that Amish couples make at different points in their lives. Some marry young, others wait until they are a little older, and a few never wed.
Courting: Young people usually meet members of the opposite sex at church, weddings, volleyball games or through friends, said Mary Detweiler, an Amish woman and proprietor of Mary D's Fabric-N-Quilt Shop, 15020 Hayes Road, Middlefield, and the mother of five girls, none of whom has reached marrying age yet.
Amish begin courting around age 17. The boy may offer to drive the girl home from a community function or he may pick her up to go to a group supper and volleyball game.
There are Sunday socials, called "singings," that unmarried young people attend, added Peter A. Gail, Ph.D., an expert on the Amish. Young people begin attending singings, which are held at homes hosting church services, when they are about 16 years old, he said, and can continue attending as long as they are unmarried.
Dating usually consists of attending these functions and going on drives in horse-drawn buggies. Visiting amusement parks, attending sporting events and the slew of other pastimes "Yankee" teens -- the Amish call anyone who is not Amish "Yankee" or "English" -- typically engage in are generally taboo, Gail said, "and movies are considered to be Satan's tools."
In some Amish communities, courting couples will meet on Sunday nights. The boy goes to the girl's house after 9 p.m. and leaves as late at 4 a.m., said Neal Wengerd, a Lawrence County Amish man.
Then, he said, "you have to forget that girl until the next week. And if you stay up all night, you've got a hard day the next day at work."
It is rare for young people to date anyone who is not Amish, Gail added, because, "Amish always marry Amish if they are going to be Amish." Although it is not impossible for a Yankee to convert, it is extremely unusual for outsiders to join the Amish church and take up the simple life, Gail noted.
Weddings: Once a couple decides to marry, the boy asks the girl's father for permission. If permission is granted, the upcoming wedding is announced at church services the following Sunday, Gail said, "and they are married within two weeks."
Weddings are often held shortly after the fall and spring communions. Communion is celebrated twice a year in the Amish church.
Having weddings in the weeks after communion Sundays allows young people wishing to marry who have not been baptized an opportunity to join the church. Baptisms are done at communion time, Gail explained. Amish cannot be married in their church if they have not been baptized.
Unlike most weddings, which take place on weekends, Amish marriage ceremonies are on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Because church services take place in homes, and meeting places change, there must be enough time to bring church benches from the last meeting place to the bride's family home for the wedding. Then, they must take them down, reload the wagon, transport them to the next meeting place and set them up again before the next Sunday meeting, Gail explained. Amish church services take place every other Sunday.
During the wedding, the bride wears a blue dress with a white apron. The groom wears a navy or black suit with a white shirt -- typical church-going clothes. There are no bridal bouquets, no hired musicians, no photographers.
Church services last from about 9 a.m. to noon, Gail said, and because men and women are segregated, the bride and groom are on opposite sides of the room. Once the services have concluded, the bride, who started the day wearing the traditional black covering on her head, standard for unmarried women and girls, switches her covering to white. The groom, who's worn a goatee since his baptism, will now grow a full beard.
Reception: After the wedding, a big family-style dinner is served, which often includes pressure fried chicken and potato salad, Gail said. Of course, that varies according to church district. The meal is always prepared by family and friends; it is never catered.
"Oh my gosh, it's a lot of work," Detweiler remarked.
Dozens of tables are set up in the house, out buildings, workshops or barns. Women cook all morning to prepare the feast and girls, dressed in the same color, a color the bride selects, serve the meal. Sometimes, limited seating mandates that guests be served in shifts.
After dinner, the bride and groom open gifts and visit with their guests who entertain themselves with games and singing. A light supper is served in the evening.
Afterward: Although the bride and groom usually have their own home, they stay with her family for a few days after the wedding to help clean up, take tables down and put items removed to make way for the celebration back in place.
The newlyweds move to their own home on Saturday or sometime during the following week, Detweiler said. If they don't have their own home, they stay with family until they can afford to buy or rent a house.
In the Amish community, a patriarchal society, wives defer to their husbands, Gail said. Women have no leadership roles in the church and are bound by tradition. However, he stressed that in most Amish homes, husbands value their wives' opinions and couples work together.