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USA: Pennsylvania: Amish Country, Harrisburg, Hershey
Amish Country, Pennsylvania, USA: Plain truth
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Farmers & carpenters by profession, the Amish live plain lives devoid of modern necessities like electricity, telephones, automobiles, etc. Their children attend one-room schools and study only up to age 12. They learn mathematics and languages. Science is a strict no-no. They marry for life – divorce is not allowed. Their church is their home and they practice organic farming leaving their farms untilled once every 7 years.
Part of the Mauiva Aircruise group, we boarded a charter flight from Niagara Falls International Airport to land at Harrisburg some 50 minutes later. A bus picked us up right from the door of the aircraft. Schedule for the day included a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World and to Amish Country in Lancaster County.
Hershey is located in Hershey. To put it simply, a town was built around a candy store. After completing an apprenticeship to a confectioner in 1873, Milton Hershey founded a candy shop in Philadelphia, which failed six years later. After trying unsuccessfully to manufacture candy in New York, Hershey returned to Pennsylvania, where he founded the Lancaster Caramel Company, whose use of fresh milk in caramels proved successful. In 1900, Hershey sold his caramel company and began to concentrate on chocolate manufacturing. In 1903, Hershey began construction of a chocolate plant in his hometown, Derry Church, Pennsylvania, which later came to be known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The milk chocolate bars manufactured at this plant proved successful, and the company grew rapidly thereafter. While his company was successfully selling sweet chocolate products, Milton Hershey knew that a fortune lay in making and selling milk chocolate products. Milton built a milk-processing plant in the year 1896, so he could create and refine a recipe for milk chocolate candies. In 1899, three years later, he developed the Hershey process. The rest is history.
A 30-minute ride from the airport brought us at the doors of Hershey’s Chocolate World – just one of the attractions of the massive entertainment and amusement complex. Since I was there in the middle of US school holidays, crowds were to the brim. Long lines at every attraction welcomed us. Anyway, since we were in a group and entrance tickets were prearranged, things were a little smooth for us.
Since we had only 2 hours on hand, we were scheduled to try out 3 attractions. A ride through chocolate making process; chocolate tasting; and creating our own candy bar. The ride lasts for about 10 minutes. I was made to sit in a gondola that moves around an enclosure specially made to show the various processes of chocolate making. Animation and light effects make for an interesting experience.
In chocolate tasting, visitors sit in a classroom. Using a multi-media presentation, a master takes you through the process of chocolate tasting and keeps you entertained with chocolate trivia. After completing the course that lasts about 30 minutes, participants are issued a certificate!
To make my kind of candy, I was asked to wear a gown and caps to cover my hair and beard. With help of a computer I selected my bar with fillings, the packaging I wanted and lo, before me, my bar was made. That was fun.
At 3PM we were ready to depart for Amish Country which was a 40 minute drive away. The first signs of homes without electric wires attached and horse driven carriages on roads signaled that we had arrived.
The Amish have their roots in the Mennonite community. Both were part of the early Anabaptist movement in Europe, which took place at the time of the Reformation. The Anabaptists believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized, and that they should remain separate from the larger society. Many early Anabaptists were put to death as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants, and many others fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding worship services in homes rather than churches.
In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who were nicknamed “Mennonites.” In 1693, a Swiss bishop named Jacob Amman broke from the Mennonite church. His followers were called the “Amish.” Although the two groups have split several times, the Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same beliefs concerning baptism, non-resistance, and basic Bible doctrines. The Amish and Mennonites both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn's "holy experiment" of religious tolerance. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720s or 1730s.
There are actually three families, or Anabaptist-related groups, found in Lancaster County: the Amish, Mennonites and Brethren. All three groups share the Anabaptist belief that calls for making a conscious choice to accept God. (Accordingly, only adults are baptized.) The three groups also share the same basic values concerning the all-encompassing authority of the Bible, a philosophy of brotherhood and non-resistance and the importance of family and community.
The groups differ primarily in matters of dress, language, forms of worship and the extent to which they allow modern technology and the forces of the "outside world" to impact their lives. Most Brethren and Mennonites dress much like their "English" neighbors. Other Mennonites, Brethren and Amish Mennonites wear distinctive Amish clothing but may make use of "worldly" conveniences, such as cars, electricity and telephones. On the other hand, Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish groups are more restrictive in their views of modern technology, with the Old Order Amish being the most conservative of Lancaster County's "plain" groups.
There is no single governing body for the entire Old Order Amish population; rather, each church district decides for itself what it will and will not accept. However, all districts base their regulations on a literal interpretation of the Bible and an unwritten set of rules called the Ordnung. And the population as a whole stresses humility, family, community and separation from the modern world.
Humility is the hallmark of Amish beliefs. Mild and modest personalities are esteemed. Patience, waiting and yielding to others are marks of maturity. Obedience, conformity to goals and community activities are encouraged. To preserve the Amish identity and maintain spiritual harmony, members are encouraged to surrender their personal aspirations for the sake of community purity. These ideals are maintained by keeping all work, play, worship, commerce and friendship within the Amish orbit.
The Pennsylvania Amish believe that community harmony is threatened by secular values such as individualism and pride, which permeate the modern world. Thus, the Amish of Pennsylvania curb interaction with outsiders and insulate themselves from modern technology and mass media. They also prohibit habits that feed individualism and greed, as displayed through their plain dress style and prohibition of personal photographs. Personal Bible study and devotions are discouraged because individual interpretations may challenge traditional doctrine. Buggies are a dark gray color so they can blend into their surroundings rather than stand out.
Although the Pennsylvania Amish resist cultural influences, they are willing to strike compromises with the modern world, tapping its benefits while still preserving the Amish identity. They are willing to use modern technology to live, work and communicate - as long as they do not disrupt family and community stability.
A local guide hopped on our bus and took us around a farmland tour to see and learn the way the Amish make their daily living by working the land - where mules replace tractors and propane gas replace electricity. Tombs in cemeteries are identical to signify that all are equal. They style their dresses the same way albeit a choice of a few solid colours is permitted. When a man turns 40, the farm hat is replaced by a church hat indicating that maturity has been attained. Our trip included a visit to a school and a typical Amish home. Men manage the farms, women manage the homes.
A multi-media film “Jacob’s Choice” was screened for us. It was an emotional story of an Old Order Amish family of today facing the challenges of modern life while struggling to preserve 400 years of community, commitment and tradition. In 45 minutes, viewers are indeed captivated. By the way, one can turn Amish but then there’s a strict protocol to follow with a 3 year test period!
Dinner that night was at Plain & Fancy. Diners have 2 options. One, The Amish Farm Feast and two, Order from the Menu. We opted for Option 1 and that’s what I would also recommend to you. The feast is Lancaster’s original, all-you-care-to-eat, family-style feast that includes entrees, sides, starters, beverages and desserts. All put together there were about 20 items on the table including Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine - chicken pot-pie, chow-chow and shoo-fly pie.
Our hotel for the night was Double Tree, Lancaster only 30 minutes drive from Amish Country. Located on the edge of a golf-course, this hotel and its facilities are bound to delight the guests.
Early next morning, before breakfast, I found the time to explore around the hotel. Morning sunlight gave me enough photo opportunities whilst walking near the golf course and the pretty Willow Valley Chapel.
Post breakfast we left for Harrisburg, capital of the State of Pennsylvania that played a notable role in American history during Westward Migration, the American Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Moving around town, we reached the State Capitol Building which is often referred to as ‘Palace of Art” because of its many sculptures, murals and stained glass windows, most of which use Pennsylvania themes or were made by Pennsylvanians.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex comprises of buildings owned by the Commonwealth and centers around the Capitol in Harrisburg. Officially named Capitol Park, it sits on more than 45 acres. The State Capitol is open to the public on regular weekdays and the access to main rotunda is only on weekends and holidays.
We got down on the State Street and walked to the east wing negotiating majestic flight of stairs called Keystone and the Barnard Statues. A volunteer from the Capitol showed us around detailing the finer nuances of the paintings on the wall as also the upper and the lower houses. The chandeliers drew special attention.
After spending about an hour inside, we were ready to leave to the Harrisburg International airport, only 30 minutes away, where our chartered plane would be ready to fly us to Washington DC – our next destination.
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