Imagine you are college student (or, if you’re already a college student, then, I guess, imagine you’re you). You’re working hard on your studies, trying to figure out what to do with your life, and navigating the social and romantic complexities of young adulthood. It’s probably your first time living away from home; you’re on your own and you have a level of freedom you could only dream of a few years ago. All this excess stress and unprecedented freedom simmers, bubbles up, and reaches a boil come spring break. For many (though certainly not all) college students, spring break is like taking the lid off a pressure cooker and letting all the pressure explode into an orgy of good times, drinking, and sometimes, actual orgies, too.
Now, imagine that spring break is not merely a week long, but perhaps a year, or two, or longer. And let’s imagine that the pressure and stress hasn’t built up over the course of a semester but rather 16 to 20 years. And let’s also imagine that you’ve never used a phone, computer, car, or elevator before. Now you’re beginning to realize what Rumspringa means for many Amish people. Rumspringa is a sort of coming of age ritual practiced by many Amish communities wherein teenagers are allowed a level of freedom they never had before. They are often permitted to leave the farm and join normal society and indulge in all the devices –and vices– of the modern world. And, when they’re done, they decide if they want to return to the community and settle down or reject the Amish life. It’s a fascinating concept, so here are 15 of the craziest facts and stories about rumspringa.
15. Rumspringa Isn’t Always Insane
Many of the stories and facts you will read about rumspringa are crazy. But it’s important to remember that rumspringa is not always a bunch of teens getting drunk and making out for the first time. For many Amish, rumspringa is a time to get better acquainted with their spirituality and strengthen their understanding of their religion. For others, it’s a time to continue their secular education. Many Amish children cease going to school after the eighth grade, as the community favors agricultural and theological knowledge over that which is taught in schools. Therefore, many Amish use rumspringa as a time to get a GED and even go to college. Lastly, and fascinatingly enough, some Amish claim to have never even heard of rumspringa when asked about it by outsiders. It seems it is not a ritual practiced by every Amish community.
14. Rumspringa Is Ill-Defined
Rumspringa is a coming of age ritual similar to Catholic confirmations, Jewish Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, or Latin American Quinceañeras. But rumspringa does not have a clear definition. There is no set age when one should begin rumspringa, though it is often around 16 or 17, but can be as a late as 23 or 24. Furthermore, there’s no set time limit. For many Amish, they take about a year off. For some it’s two, or three, or more. For others, it could be a week of camping and drinking in the woods. The parents of Amish teens seem to deliberately not want to put restrictions, labels, or boundaries on their children when it comes to rumspringa. They are meant to take however long they want and do all the crazy stuff they want until it’s out of their system. Be careful though, young Amish! For Amish teachings proclaim that if an Amish youth is to die during rumspringa, they will go to hell. So try not to drink too much liquor or snort too much cocaine.
13. Drunk Sheep Herding
So we know not all Amish leave the farm during rumspringa. So what do they do? Well, in at least one community, Amish teens traditionally begin their rumspringa by getting drunk on moonshine and…herding sheep. In the dark. It’s all great fun. Especially with the added wrinkle that sometimes they’ll set up bear traps around the farm. You know, because no activity is truly fun without the threat of losing a limb in an agonizingly painful way. You, dear reader, may think you’ve partied hard. But you’ve never truly partied until you’ve got drunk on non-government regulated moonshine and tried to herd sheep around some bear traps by candlelight. There ain’t no party like a rumspringa party because a rumspringa party don’t stop (until Ezekiel’s got his leg caught in a bear trap, at least).
12. 75 Teens Arrested
As mentioned earlier, rumspringa is often an experience for Amish teens. Teens. That means drinking is technically against the law. Now, the Amish don’t often bother people, so police in Amish-dense regions often leave them alone, but sometimes these Amish rumspringa parties can really get out of control. Sometimes it’s just the teens of one community getting drunk on moonshine. Innocent enough. But when several communities get together, light big bonfires, and get lit themselves, it can be hard for law enforcement to look the other way. Such was the case in Holmes County, Ohio, in September 2016, when 35 police officers raided a massive field party and arrested 75 teens for underage drinking. Two of the teens were also charged with resisting arrest and another two had to be hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning.
11. Girls Love to Grind
So what do these teens do once they get drunk? (Aside from herding sheep, of course). Well, one thing the girls do is take off their bonnets. This might seem a quaint and minor detail to us, but when reading first hand accounts of rumspringa, one gets the sense that the removing of one’s bonnet is a major deal for these girls. They must really hate their bonnets because they can’t wait to get them off. After, that they listen to some hot fiddle music and dance. But we’re not talking about line dancing or a two step here. According to at least one account, girls love to grind. Quite how one grinds to fiddle music, I’m not sure, but these girls love to grab a cute boy and grind their derrieres right into them.
10. Going English
But all of this is stuff you can do on the farm, provided your parents respect the unwritten law of rumspringa and turn a blind eye to the debauchery. But what of the Amish who choose to experiment with life outside the community? Wearing modern clothes and taking part in modern society is known as “Going English”. Amish communities trace their routes back to Germany, so when original Amish settlers such as the Pennsylvania Dutch (or more accurately, the Pennsylvania Deutsche) would leave the community, they would be joining the English colonial society. This term has stuck. It’s hard to obtain good data about a community like the Amish, but it seems that boys are significantly likelier to go English than girls during rumspringa.
9. Amish Teens use Social Media
For many Amish, the overwhelming stimulation of modern technology is too much for them and they return to the farm in short order. However, many other Amish seem to adapt quickly and utilise technology to enhance their rumspringa experience. Amish teens are very keen on social media. There are Amish groups on Facebook and teens on rumspringa can use social media to coordinate parties or to discuss their experiences. It’s interesting because for many of these teens, this would be the first time they’ve ever used a mobile phone and yet in seemingly short order they’re organising discussion groups on Reddit or Snapchatting their raging rumspringa parties. But let’s remember not every Amish community is 100% strict on their forswearing of technology and that some Amish even within the community use computers and social media, too.
8. Swipe Right for Beards (Without Moustaches)
But it’s not just Facebook. It’s not just Snapchat. It’s not just Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, or ICQ. These Amish teens use of virtual networking goes beyond social media. Yes, the Amish use dating apps. Imagine swiping through Tinder, Bumble, or JSwipe (OK, probably not JSwipe) and coming across “Josiah- 18 – Loves moonshine, fiddles, and ‘English’ girls”. Well if you live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or near some other Amish communities, you very well could. Remember, this is rumspringa. All bets are off. Why use evil technology just to join a chatroom to discuss how evil technology is when you could be getting ghosted by moderately attractive strangers? After a litany of unsolicited “wanna smash?” and “come over” texts by shirtless dudes named Chad, I’m sure a lot of Amish girls are running back to the farm.
7. Intimate Machines
OK, I’m sure by now you want to know: but do they actually have s*x? At least, if you’re anything like me, you want to know that. Well, fellow depravedly curious reader, I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do indeed go “all the way”. One would think the Amish, like most strict religious communities, would take a dim view of premarital sex. And I’m sure they do. But maybe rumspringa doesn’t count? Like it never happened? You know, what happens on rumspringa, stays on rumspringa? However they square it, Amish teens would hardly be the first religious people to play fast and loose with sexual mores. In any event, one tidbit I must share is that, according to one girl’s account of a rumspringa party, she managed to entice a nice young Amish boy into a roll around in the hay (literally) by hiking up her skirt and showing off her leg. Her hairy leg. She had been told by older girls that boys love hairy legs; the hairier the better. And, in at least one community, that seems to be true. Who knew?
6. Fast & Furious
For much of this article, we’ve looked at how the Amish deal with computerized technology; tech that’s relatively new even for us. But remember, the Amish have sworn off technological advancement for centuries, so there are centuries’ worth of gadgets and machinery to which the Amish are not accustomed. Take for instance, the automobile. When most of us first get behind the wheel, usually around 16 or 17, we must admit, we’re not very good. But imagine your first time behind the wheel is your first time in a vehicle at all. Then imagine that you get over your terror and ineptitude behind the wheel, what would you do? Put the pedal to the metal and gun that engine until you’re going 110 mph? While smoking and drinking? Well, that’s just what a group of teens on Rumspringa in Indiana last year. Thankfully, the worst that came of that were some legal troubles after a cop pulled them over.
5. Not Quite So Fast, A Little Less Furious
Even if we can’t condone it, I think we can all understand the temptation an Amish youth must feel the first he or she is behind the wheel. You want to see that this evil machine can do. You want to floor it and fly down the freeway. Especially if you’re intoxicated. But not all Amish have access to a Maserati. So what do drunk Amish teens on the farm do? They gun their…buggies. That’s right, DUI buggy crashes. And this has happened multiple times. One such incident saw some teens on rumspringa crash their buggy in upstate New York. Another case, from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County last year, saw a (non-Amish) man give some teens who he assumed to be on Rumspringa some beer (illegally). Then, after they had been drinking, he caught up to them on the road (in his car) and swerved in front of them, causing the horses and buggy to rear end his car. The man’s car sustained minor damage and one of the teens sprained his wrist, but the horses, thankfully, were unharmed.
4. We Keep Spending Most Our Lives Living In An Amish Paradise
Rumspringa is bigger now than it has ever been. Both in terms of the majority of society’s awareness of rumspringa as well as the Amish community’s practice of it. One case, perhaps more than any other, really launched rumspringa into the cultural consciousness. In 1998, two Amish men in Lancaster county were arrested for drug dealing. Abner Stoltzfus and Abner King Stoltzfus (no relation) were charged with distributing cocaine to Amish youth groups. At 23 and 24, the two Stoltzfuses were on the older side for rumspringa (a contemporary article reports that rumspringa is for Amish between 16-24). They used their rumspringa to clear their heads and do some quality drug dealing; dealing to other youth on rumspringa. Nevertheless, both stated that they intended to return to the church. You know, once they got all that drug dealing out of their systems.
3. Rumspringa Ragers
So now we have an idea of what goes on at these rumspringa parties. It can be as wild as young people drinking moonshine, snorting cocaine, and grinding on each other to fiddle music. Or it can be as quiet and low key as drunk sheep herding in the dark (with bear traps). But as mentioned before, one such rumspringa party saw 75 minors receive citations for underage drinking. You must be thinking “wow, 75, how big are these parties?”. Well, Sheriff Jeff Campos of LaGrange County says he has broken up parties of 200-300 youths. 300! Amish youths get on the aforementioned social media groups and arrange raging parties that youths from multiple states attend. It’s not rare to find parties with Amish youths from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois all in attendance.
2. High Retention Rates
At this point, you’re probably wondering if any Amish go back to their community after rumspringa? After all, after spending a year or two of your late teens or early twenties partying, drinking, flirting, and using computers for the first time, why would you want to go back to life in the 17th century? Well, I’m not sure why, but many of them do go back. Not just many, but most of them. Again, it’s hard to get good data like this about people like the Amish, but estimates vary from 80 to as high as 95 percent of all Amish return to life on the farm after they are done with rumspringa. That is truly incredible. It makes sense that some Amish are overwhelmed by technology and the modern world and go right back. Also, many Amish just use rumspringa as an excuse to party within the community. But with rates this high, that means a lot of Amish leave the farm for rumspringa, go English, and live a modern life, only to go back.
1. Amish Outlaws
But even if the number is 95 percent, that’s still not everybody. Some people decide to stay on the outside. Such is the case for the Amish Outlaws. The Amish Outlaws are a popular and critically acclaimed country-rock/bluegrass band. Four of the six members of the band were Amish and met while on rumspringa. They grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and lived under strict Amish rules: no electric power, no alcohol, and no musical instruments. But once they got out and got to hear and play music, there was no turning back. They met at a “Rock and Roll Hootenanny”, appropriately enough. While the Amish lifestyle clearly isn’t for them, they try to represent their background and heritage respectfully, while rocking out to all the vices of the modern world. They live on the border of two worlds; a reminder that as much as we may love modern technology, others abhor it. And as much as they love their pre-industrial lifestyle, time waits for no man.