Family is the core element in the Amish church, and choosing a mate is the most important decision in an Amishman’s life. Boys and girls begin their search for a spouse when they turn sixteen. By the time a young woman turns twenty or a young man is in his early twenties, he or she is probably looking forward to the wedding day. But several definite steps must be taken by a couple before they may marry.
Both must join the Amish church. They are baptized into the Amish faith and are responsible for following the Ordnung. The Ordnung is a written and unwritten set of rules for daily living. Joining the church prepares the young people for the seriousness of setting up their own home.
The young man asks his girl to marry him, but he does not give her a diamond. He may give her china or a clock. The couple keeps their intentions secret until July or August. At this time the young woman tells her family about her plans to marry.
A whirlwind of activity begins after Fast Day on October 11. Fall communion takes place the following church Sunday. After communion, proper certification of membership is requested, and is given by the second Sunday after communion. This is a major day in the life of the church because all the couples who plan to marry are “published.” At the end of the service, the deacon announces the names of the girls and who they plan to marry. The fathers then announce the date and time of the wedding and invite the members to attend. The betrothed couple does not attend the church service on the Sunday they are published. Instead, the young woman prepares a meal for her fiance and they enjoy dinner alone at her home. When the girl’s family returns from church, the daughter formally introduces her fiance to her parents.
After being published, the young people have just a few days before the ceremony. They are permitted to go to one last singing with their old group of friends. The girl also helps her mother prepare for the wedding and feast which takes place in her parents’ home. The boy is busy extending personal invitations to members of his church district.
And the bride wore…blue. Blue may not be the most traditional color for a bridal gown, but in one instance it is actually the most popular color choice. Blue is a typical color chosen for weddings by young Amish women. Navy blue, sky blue and shades of purple are the most popular colors donning Amish brides in any year. An Amish bride’s wedding attire is always new. She usually makes her own dress and also those of her attendants, known as newehockers, (Pennsylvania Dutch for sidesitters). The style of the dresses are a plain cut and are mid-calf length. They are unadorned, there is no fancy trim or lace and there is never a train. Most non-Amish brides wear their bridal dress once, but an Amish bride’s practical dress will serve her for more than just her wedding day. Her wedding outfit will become her Sunday church attire after she is married. She will also be buried in the same dress when she dies. The bride and her attendants also wear capes and aprons over their dresses. Instead of a veil, the bride wears a black prayer covering to differentiate from the white cap she wears daily. And, the bride must wear black high-topped shoes. No one in the bridal party carries flowers.
The groom and his newehockers wear black suits. All coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes, not buttons. Their shirts are white, and shoes and stockings are black. Normally, Amish men do not wear ties, but for the wedding they will don bow ties. The groom also wears high-topped black shoes, and a black hat with a three and a half inch brim.
All of the attendants in the wedding party play a vital role in the events of the day. But there is no best man or maid of honor; all are of equal importance.
Wedding dates for the Amish are limited to November and part of December, when the harvest has been completed and severe winter weather has not yet arrived. A full day is needed to prepare for the wedding. Most are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are used as days to prepare for or to clean-up after. Saturdays are not used as wedding days because it would be sacrilegious to work or clean-up on the following day, Sunday.
A typical Amish wedding day begins at 4 o’clock in the morning. After all, the cows must still be milked and all the other daily farm chores need to be done. There are also many last minute preparations to take care of before the wedding guests arrive. Helpers begin to arrive by 6:30 a.m. to take care of last minute details. By 7:00 a.m., the people in the wedding party have usually eaten breakfast, changed into their wedding clothes, and are waiting in the kitchen to greet the guests. Some 200 to 400 relatives, friends and church members are invited to the ceremony, which is held in the bride’s home.
The Forgeher, or ushers, (usually four married couples), will make sure each guest has a place on one of the long wooden benches in the meeting or church room of the home. At 8:30 a.m., the three-hour long service begins. The congregation will sing hymns, (without instrumental accompaniment), while the minister counsels the bride and groom in another part of the house. After the minister and the young couple return to the church room, a prayer, Scripture reading and sermon takes place. Typically, the sermon is a very long one.
After the sermon is concluded, the minister asks the bride and groom to step forward from their seat with the rest of the congregation. Then he questions them about their marriage to be, which is similar to taking wedding vows. The minister then blesses the couple. After the blessing, other ordained men and the fathers of the couple may give testimony about marriage to the congregation. A final prayer draws the ceremony to a close.
That’s when the festivities begin. In a flurry of activity, the women rush to the kitchen to get ready to serve dinner while the men set up tables in a U-shape around the walls of the living room. A corner of the table will be reserved for the bride and groom and the bridal party. This is an honored place called the “Eck,” meaning corner. The tables are set at least twice during the meal, depending on how many guests were invited. The tables are laden with the “roast,” (roast chicken with bread stuffing), mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed celery, coleslaw, applesauce, cherry pie, donuts, fruit salad, tapioca pudding and bread, butter and jelly.
The bride sits on the groom’s left, in the corner, the same way they will sit as man and wife in their buggy. The single women sit on the same side as the bride and the single men on that of the groom. The immediate family members sit at a long table in the kitchen, with both fathers seated at the head.
After dinner, the afternoon is spent visiting, playing games and matchmaking. Sometimes the bride will match unmarried boys and girls, who are over 16 years old, to sit together at the evening meal. The evening meal starts at 5:00 p.m. The parents of the bride and groom, and the older guests are now seated at the main table and are the first to be served. The supper varies from the traditional noon meal. A typical menu might consist of stewed chicken, fried sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, peas, cold-cuts, pumpkin and lemon sponge pies, and cookies. The day usually winds to a close around 10:30 p.m.
The couple’s first night together is spent at the bride’s home because they must get up early the next day to help clean the house. Their honeymoon is spent visiting all their new relatives on the weekends throughout the winter months ahead. This is when they collect the majority of their wedding gifts. Usually, they receive useful items such as dishware, cookware, canned food, tools and household items. Typically, when the newlyweds go visiting, they will go to one place Friday night and stay overnight for breakfast the following day. They’ll visit a second place in the afternoon and stay for the noon meal and go to a third place for supper. Saturday night is spent at a fourth place, where they have Sunday breakfast. A fifth place is visited for Sunday dinner and a sixth for Sunday supper before they return to the bride’s parents home. The couple lives at the home of the bride’s parents until they can set up their own home the following spring.
(For a question about Amish courting rituals, see our Frequently Asked Amish Questions section.)