What Do Beards Mean to the Amish?
Beards are a hallmark of Amish men.
In Amish society, beards are the equivalent of wedding rings. They indicate a man is currently married or has been married in the past (in the event he is a widower).
But is that all there is to the Amish beard? And why do the Amish men only grow hair on their chins?
We'll answer all of that and more in this blog.
First, let's talk about some details concerning Amish beards as a symbol.
What Do Beards Mean to the Amish?
As we mentioned above, beards serve the same purpose as a wedding ring for an Amish man.
This is because the Amish emphasis on modesty precludes them from wearing jewelry — even symbolic pieces like wedding rings.
However, a beard also means more in Amish society because the Amish view marriage differently than the world at large.
An Amish beard indicates that a man has assumed a position as the head of a family. That family in question is planned because the Amish all but require large families.
This means an Amish man and woman marry young and begin trying for children as quickly as possible.
It's also important to note that Amish marriage is always between a man and a woman. Despite the relative progress of global society in terms of accepting homosexuals as people (which, come on, they are), the Amish don't recognize homosexuality in their own circles.
In fact, Amish points of view are so conservative and anti-progressive that they're more likely to shun a member of their family for discovering they're gay, as opposed to loving and supporting them.
In this way, Amish society at large makes zero recognition of homosexuality.
This also means that the construct of an Amish family — and a man's beard & — is inherently political. It's a competition to raise the hardest-working children who help provide for the family while ensuring the children themselves are one day prepared to marry.
This all comes together to mean that an Amish man's beard symbolizes his commitment to his wife, their family, and the entire Amish way of life.
The beard is not a style choice. It's not a fashion statement.
It's a lifelong dedication.
Because that's what the Amish society demands. Above all else, it emphasizes compliance, tradition, and survival.
The Amish beard is a promise to fulfill those demands.
Why Do the Amish Only Grow Beards?
The Amish tradition of the beard stretches back several hundred years to the structures of the cult's founder, Jakob Ammann.
After splitting from the Swiss Brethren — essentially Swiss Mennonites — Ammann founded his own Anabaptist sect based on discipline and humility.
This way of life emphasized a separation from the world in terms of technology and harsh penalties for stepping out of line, resulting in the famous practice of "shunning."
Somewhat paradoxically, the Amish way of life also emphasizes nonviolence. After all, nonviolence is a keystone part of the Mennonite belief structure, thanks to its founder Menno Simons.
It just so happens that Ammann and his followers lived in an era where Germany maintained a dominant military presence in Western Europe. In the German military, it was fashionable for high-ranking officers to grow lavish mustaches.
This resulted in a strong association between military service — which was forbidden by the nonviolent Amish — and mustaches.
So when it came time for Ammann to dictate dress and presentation for his cult, he chose to ban the growth of mustaches.
The final, end result of this history is the so-called "Amish beard" — a beard with hair on the side of the face and on the chin, but not on the upper lip.
In that way, the Amish beard takes on another symbolic significance as well — peaceful protest. The Amish were (and still are, by doctrine) so nonviolent that they rejected even the fashions of those who embraced military service.
So again, while the Amish beard is a "wedding ring" of sorts, it's also a major symbol of the beliefs and traditions of the Amish themselves.
Want to Learn More about the Amish?
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