Written by Art Petrosemolo
For most of us, the closest we’ll ever get to a Lancaster County Old Order Amish wedding is to see dozens of buggies parked at a country farm on a fall day or to taste an “Amish wedding meal” at a local tourist restaurant.
After just 18 months as a new Garden Spot resident, I had a chance to spend the good part of a day at the wedding of the second oldest daughter of a friend (Amish family of eight children) in farm country southeast of Lancaster the last week of October.
Fall has always been traditional wedding season in Lancaster County. Fall marks the end of the harvest and the cool weather meant the food would not spoil. Today, with refrigeration—even on many Old Order farms—that has changed slightly with weddings also scheduled in the spring.
And yes, there can be two or three weddings on the same day and with extended families, in a good year, an Amish family may attend 10-12 events as well as even two or three weddings the same day.
I have known this Amish family for more than a year and helped the mother do some marketing for a new business. And with my photography and graphic arts experience, I was honored when they asked me to help design and print the wedding invitation, songbook used during the day as well as the new address card for the married couple.
To say it was a “once in a lifetime experience,” may be the best way to describe it. I was wide-eyed throughout the day and my only disappointment, and it was a big one, was that as a professional photographer, I was not allowed to take photos. My only shot was of the buggies outside the wedding barn.
I even suggested to the bride’s family that other than the birth of her first child, the wedding would be the most important event in her life and asked would they let me take at least one photo of the couple. I was pretty sure of the answer but I had to ask.
I was one of nearly 400 people who attended the wedding and my wife and I were one of just a handful of non-Amish (English) attendees. The event, ceremony and meals, was held in the large, family barn with a large room in the home utilized also for the wedding meal. It may have been a modern, working barn with cement floors but it was power-washed and cleaned to pass any military inspection with carpeting covering the cement. Most guests sat on the benches used for Amish church services (which convert to tables) while other guests sat in chairs.
Naturally, there wasn’t heat but we were fortunate to enjoy a pleasant late fall day and there was body-heat aplenty with 400 guests. The Amish Bishop got the service started about 8:30am (all in Pennsylvania Dutch) preaching to his Plain Community brethren.
We arrived at 10am in time for the actual wedding ceremony and were met by a Forgeher (usher) who showed us to our seats. The ceremony didn’t happen until 11am and it was brief. The wedding vows—a series of questions asked of the couple about their marriage by the Bishop before his blessing—are very short (maybe three minutes) and there is no exchange of rings nor is there a bridal party. The vows were followed by testimony about the marriage from other Bishops in attendance and ended at 11:45am.
Within 15 minutes of the completion of the service, the members of the bride’s family and other friends seated guests and began serving the wedding meal. It was hearty and there was plenty of it. My Amish tablemate said, “If you leave an Amish wedding hungry, it’s your own fault.”
The newly married couple eats with their guests but sit at the corner of the room next to a space called the Ek where three couples (picked by the bride) are charged with handling the couple’s requests. I understand they may request (in advance) something other than the traditional wedding meal and it is the Ek couples who carry out that request.
We were served and ate plenty. The main dish was a chicken and stuffing mix which you covered with gravy. There were mashed potatoes (as only the Amish can make them), and a hot green celery vegetable (something new to my wife and I). I was surprised there was no bread and I missed it. Water and coffee were served with the meal and as soon as one serving plate was empty, it was replaced with another full one and you ate to your heart’s content. Dessert was cookies, cakes and a mocha pie along with canned summer fruits.
As soon as the meal was done, the tables in the home were removed and everyone squeezed into the finished basement as the newly married couple opened wedding presents that included practical gifts like power leaf blowers to more traditional fare as well as lots of gift cards.
While the couple opened gifts with the help of their siblings, more than 100 of the young (8-18 guests) sang traditional Christian hymns in three and four-part harmony. It was pretty moving.
Later in the afternoon, guests socialized while the kids played volleyball and talked before a more informal evening meal. The bride and groom worked carefully to pair their teenager friends (who were not dating) at tables in the barn for the meal before it all ended around sunset.
There could have been three or four weddings going on simultaneously on the late fall day Tina and I enjoyed our first such event. My Amish tablemate said he had been to three weddings already and the season was literally just beginning.
The Amish ceremony and reception has stayed the same for years and invitees arrive early (sometimes as the sun is rising on a late fall day) in carriages—sometimes a hundred or more—and their horses are stabled and cared for in a tent erected for the event. Each wedding may be a little bigger or smaller and the meal (other than the main course) may vary slightly but traditions die hard in the Plain Community and being asked to take part in that tradition was truly a privilege.