Every time I hear the word “Rumspringa” I cringe. There’s no such thing! It’s time that someone sets things straight!
Well, actually it’s not that definitive but probably 90% of the idea of “Rumspringa” is mythical. If I’m not mistaken, it was “invented” by some TV show – perhaps Amish in the City?
“Rumspringa” literally means “running around” or “run around” depending on the context. It is actually a concatenation of two Pennsylvania Dutch terms; “rum” and “springa”. “Rum” is usually pronounced with a long ‘uh’ as in the word “put”. “springa” is usually pronounced “shpring’-uh”. “Rum” means “round” and “springa” means “run” or “running”.
Anyway, here is the idea;
A young Amish boy or girl lives a nice God-fearing life, obeys his or her parents, and abides by the Amish interpretation of the Bible. Then, when the boy or girl has reached a certain age, they are allowed, nay, encouraged, to leave the Amish on a journey of self-discovery. This journey is known as “Rumspringa” and ends at some later time when the young adult has discovered himself or herself at which point he or she decides to return permanently or leave permanently.
Here is what really happens;
A young Amish boy or girl is a typical boy or girl except for the environment he or she is growing up in. Sometimes the child does what its parents teach it to – lead a God-fearing life, obeying its parents, and abiding by the Amish interpretation of the Bible. Other times, the child rebels and is punished by the parents. The parents want the child to remain Amish. For many Amish parents, it is a horrible fear of theirs that their child will grow up and leave the Amish – and burn forever in hell for it. They love their child just like any other parent and don’t want the child to be tortured for all of eternity in the fiery pits of hell. Once a teenager, the young Amish person typically chooses to become a member of the church to live his or her life according to the Amish beliefs. A small percentage of Amish teenagers rebel. They start dressing in “English” clothing and some will even go as far as buying a motor vehicle. Mind you, this was never permitted by the Amish parents. In some communities, the rebellious teenager is allowed to live at home despite owning a vehicle. The parents hope that the child’s rebelliousness is just a temporary stage. Sometimes the teenager returns to the Amish and sometimes he or she doesn’t. If a male teenager returns to the Amish you can pretty much bet that there was a girl involved (way more Amish males leave the Amish than do Amish females). In most Amish communities, though, if a teenager has the nerve to buy a motor vehicle, the parents will unequivocally kick the child out of their home. That is, after asking the child where he got the money to buy the car. The child is generally not given an invitation to return. In many cases, communication between the child and the parents and the child and the remaining Amish siblings stops completely.
So there’s your real life Rumspringa: A child develops the courage to leave the oppressive grip of the Amish, despite knowing that he will possibly lose his entire family. There’s no “Rumspringa”. There’s only ‘leaving the Amish” and “not leaving the Amish”. Of course, if you do leave the Amish, you are generally allowed to return as long as you agree to live by their rules.
As for myself, I was lucky in having Amish parents that are a little more loving. When I got my first vehicle I was no longer allowed to live at home but I was still allowed to visit home as long as I didn’t park my vehicle on the property. Even now, living thousands of miles away from my family and not seeing them for over a year at a time – I still don’t have the nerve to park my rental car on their property when I return to visit. Part of it is that I’m not sure my Dad would allow it and the other part is out of respect for their beliefs (I don’t want to “flaunt” my worldliness).
David Byler said:
I was raised in an old order amish community. I first ran away when I was 16 then I left for good in 04. I find myself explaining to people that rum springa is not at all like it is portrayed to be on tv. I to am an atheist and I made the mistake of telling my parents. It didnt go over very well.
Again, I only know what I have seen not growing up Amish but having family close by, but Rumspringa is Lancaster tradition that is not about experiancing “worldly ways.” Instead it’s about running around and attending barn singings in other districts to meet girls that are not as closely related to you. You are also allowed to attend other anabaptist services to decide which church district is right for you. Now the idea that Rumspringa is an encouraged time to flirt with the world, wear normal clothes and drive a car comes from T.V . sitcoms and movies who want a modern day fish out of water story.
Yes, you are right! Rumspringa, for the vast majority of Amish, is not as it is portrayed in media.
Don Key said:
Absolutely, the media distorts rumspringa. In my experience in Lancaster County, most Amish kids just use the time to date with an eye towards marriage. The wildest most of them get is piling into the courting buggies to go to the singings.
A few may experiment with cars, drugs, alcohol, and English fashion and technology, but that’s the rare exception. But the media presents those exceptions as the rule.
It seems the one generalization I can trust about the Amish is that one cannot generalize about the Amish. I’ve seen so many depictions of Amish, mostly boys, drinking heavily, living on their own with modern conveniences, even doing drugs and having premarital sex (well, talking about it), before they decide to be baptised or not. Some never get too wild because they know fairly early they want to be Amish, but It’s hard for me to believe that all the shows I’ve seen and books or articles I’ve read about Rumspringa are the result of some media concoction, but of course media always focuses on the unusual. Amish are unusual to non-Amish, which makes them interesting, and thus those Amish who are unusual to the Amish are even more interesting.
I think it’s like this: For the documentarians of Rumspringa, they get access to a particular group of people that they will follow through the next few weeks or months, and assuming it’s not scripted, at the time no one knows what each person will do. The ones who decide right away to be baptised are no longer interesting, or no longer accessible. The ones the filmmakers keep following are the ones who stay out the longest, who find the world most tempting, and who probably pick up the worst habits. Then it’s presented to us as the way things are, and we also forget that, say, 6 of the original 8 kids they originally followed are already back to being Amish.
I think you’re right, Linda. The common misrepresentation of Rumspringa is a reporting error which the scientific community would call a “selection bias”.
Michael Miller said:
Forgive me for saying so, but this media driven event is in no way representative of the vast amount of Amish that enjoy a time of rumspringa working humbly at your local bookstore, or market or dog kennel. Most young Amish live out their time doing avant garde things like wearing zippered trousers, driving cars, dating, behaving like tourist seeing the America they’d only heard about.
Just last summer, Liam, our son, brought to our attention these children—visitors really, pointing saying “Ich wünschte, unser Papa könnte die Weite dieses Grand Canyon sehen.” (saying I wish Papa could see the vastness of the Grand Canyon.)
They were from Wayne County in Ohio, an Old Order sect of Amish. We introduced ourselves to them, shared a Coke, and parted. They took their pictures and left.
Like you said, you cannot trust the depictions of Amish by the media. They are only after glitz and gossip and controversy, these English. But it is time that the Amish change and open their world a little. But I fear that doing so may be there death nell to Amish culture, as it has been in Europe.
Tony Ramsey said:
These people are nuts, cruel to animals and, if there is a Hell, that is where they are going. Fu–ing idiots!!
Michael Miller said:
I was raised Amish. I no longer identify as being Amish, but having an Amish upbringing. I am not English. As a young troubled child living Amish—so separate—from the world, wondering if there was life out there beyond the tree line of our farm, I spent years obeying my mutter and vader, trusting in their teachings while beginning to believe that I was the incarnate of evil itself. I tried to kill myself, slicing open my arms, almost bleeding to death behind the backstop of an English ball play field. I was a thirteen year old gay child.
Now, at 55, having left my Amish upbringing—my family—I understand that loving other boys (now mien husband) was not evil, but necessary.
In our community the “running around” time was supported by our community. It was a time of self-discovery. For most, between ages 17-25, it is a time to make the decision of if to stay or leave the Amish. It is a time of heart-rending pain, tis true. But also of liberation.
I left my community, my family, when I was 14. I was encouraged to leave at age 13, to go live with a Christian family that I was later adopted me. My homosexuality was accepted as being only .01% of who Michael Miller really was. I am a professional cabinet maker today. My works easily support our family.
As for my Amish upbringing, it seems more like a faraway memory. I recall the days leading my ducklings with wet feet and the smell of honeysuckle in the air. Still today, I occasionally see my siblings at market. I don’t know if they recognize me. Once, I held my sisters hand a moment and said, “Ich liebe dich, Schwester.” and I walked away.
Today our twin boys, are the loves of our life. They are vibrant, sharing, loving, handsome 8th graders. Years ago they asked about their Opa. I told them that their grandpa lived up that hill there, pointing, and they would be welcome to visit them any time they wanted. They did. Yesterday. I understand they he cried.
Today I got a letter from the Mother—bless her heart—eighty-eight years of age, she asks me to come visit. Papa is not well. Time heals most wounds. Perhaps the ban has been dropped. I will go. I was raised Amish.
Kevin J Toups said:
For some reason I read this in the voice of Dwight Schrute (The Office); great story, if you ever get out of cabinet making – you should write a book.