I’ve had the pleasure of attending five Amish weddings within my community in the past few years. It’s interesting to watch teens grow up so quickly through the courting process and then marry at the tender ages of nineteen or twenty years old.
But I understand why early marriage works for this culture. The young people are itching to get out from under their parent’s control. They want freedom and early marriage gives them some semblance of that desire.
Here are my thoughts at one of the weddings:
Once I get past the discomfort of young people committing at such a young age, I sit back and observe the wedding that is vastly different from what most of us are used to. The ceremony itself lasts about three hours. There are no flowers, decorations or organ played. The people arriving seem rather somber and they wear their usual Sunday dresses and black coats. There are wooden benches to sit on and the ceremony takes place in a barn, basement, shed, or beneath a tent. Usually, the event is held at the bride’s parent’s house, but sometimes another community member will volunteer to host or the local school house may be used to accommodate the hundreds of guests.
The ceremony is conducted by the bishop and several ministers in turns. They speak in Pennsylvania Dutch, an Amish form of German, with a few English words thrown in here and there. There are prayers, sermons, scripture reading and several songs being sung by the guests without the accompaniment of instruments. The hymns continue the somber feeling, with little variation of rhythm.
The bride and groom’s families sit behind the couple, while the congregation is split by sex; boys and men on one side and girls and women on the other. The bride wears a simple Sunday dress, always a shade of blue in my community, with a white apron over it. The bride picks two sisters, cousins or friends to represent her, and the groom does the same with male members of his family. The bride’s attendants wear the same shade of blue that the bride herself wears and they sit beside her and the groom, along with his representatives. The vows are simple, agreeing to love each other and take care of each other, regardless of sickness.
By the time the ceremony ends, my body is screaming out with little pains of discomfort from sitting on a hard bench for so long. The length of the service, combined with the fact that I didn’t understand the language adds to the elation that the torturous experience has ended…and that it’s time for the real party to begin!
The wedding meal is always delicious and makes me forget the previous three hours quickly. The reception is set up in another barn, building or basement, but the location doesn’t matter, because the smell of the roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, salads, pies and coffee fill the air and the sight of the beautifully set long tables make me forget that I’m in a space that’s usually a farm work area.
Each bride picks her own linen colors and flowers for the tables. There are small wedding favors, usually, pens or candies with the names of the bride and groom, the date of their union and a bible verse upon them.
The bride, groom and attendants sit at a table at the head of the guest tables and the happy sounds of the chattering community members, who have finally relaxed, fill the air.
Sure, there won’t be a bouquet being thrown, or a garter belt put on a girl’s leg. No toasts to champagne or guests dancing on the floor to a DJ’s picks, but as I leave the reception and walk past the buggies lined up neatly and the horses tied to the fences, I pause to greet several of my smiling neighbors and realize that although it’s been a long day, it’s also been one of the nicest weddings I’ve been to.