Always popular on Timber to Table are our guest posts by Erik Wesner. Erik runs the Amish America website (www.amishamerica.com) and YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/AmishAmerica). Welcome back Erik!
Like any other people, the Amish, both young and old, enjoy various games and entertainment. While you won’t find video game consoles or other worldly, high-tech entertainment devices in Amish homes, they do manage to find many forms of recreation that fit within their culture and beliefs. And like many things Amish, games and entertainment are typically something to do with others. Let’s have a look at several examples of how the Amish spend their free time together, in no particular order:
1. Volleyball – This is primarily a youth group pastime. Amish youth gather on Sundays after church service for a meal and to spend two hours in song together. This is the time Amish young people interact socially and when a young Amish man might ask a young Amish woman for a “date” (commonly giving her a buggy ride home from the singing). Another big part of these gatherings is volleyball. Both girls and boys play together, in mixed teams, offering a suitable venue to interact with one another before the singing in the later part of the evening. Volleyball is also played at auctions.
2. Softball – This is a common playground game played by scholars (the word Amish use for “schoolchildren”). Pretty much every Amish schoolhouse has a softball diamond. Winning and losing are not emphasized. Learning to play together is important. This doesn’t mean Amish children aren’t competitive in their play, however.
Some Amish adults also play softball – sometimes “helping out” in children’s games, sometimes in adult games such as one held in the park in the Sarasota, FL Pinecraft neighborhood, home to a community of Amish.
3. Cornerball – Known as “eck balle” in Pennsylvania Dutch, this traditional game is played primarily among young Amish and plain Mennonite men at auctions in the Lancaster County community. Cornerball is played on a roughly 25-by-25-foot square area which has been covered with straw (to soften landings). It involves two teams of six players each and a baseball-sized ball (though not as hard as a baseball).
The game is essentially a form of dodgeball. Two players from one team jump, bend, and dive to avoid being hit by throws from the opposing team (reportedly a painful experience), who are situated at the square’s corners. This game is not played as frequently as it was once, but remains a hit with Amish spectators, both young and old.
4. Ice hockey – This is quite popular with Amish in colder climates, particularly in the Lancaster County, PA community and its related settlements. Local frozen ponds make convenient hockey rinks.
5. Cornhole – This beanbag toss game has become quite popular in many Amish communities. Amish variety stores sell cornhole sets. It is a popular game for family cookouts and other outdoor gatherings.
6. Board and other games – The Amish enjoy a variety of board games, card games and other games that can be played around the kitchen table. These allow the family to play together on cold winter evenings when a farmer’s work schedule is lighter. Younger children can participate with the adults or play games geared more toward smaller children.
Games played by the Amish include Settlers of Cataan, Farmopoly (an agricultural-themed game in the style of Monopoly), and classics such as Connect 4 and LIFE. Amish also play card games such as UNO, Skip-Bo, and Dutch Blitz. You may even see some battery-operated games such as the iconic 1970s memory game “Simon.”
7. Spikeball – Finally, this is a relatively new entry to the list of games and entertainment seen among the Amish. This one has become popular among youth in some communities. Spikeball involves two teams of two players each, a ball, and a round trampoline-like net. Similar to volleyball, each team has three hits of the ball. The object is to “spike” the ball into the net so that the other team cannot field the ball. This game is also known as roundnet and dates to the late 1980s, though it has just relatively recently achieved popularity among the Amish. In some places, it has reportedly replaced volleyball at auction events.
These are not the only games and entertainments enjoyed by Amish, simply some of the most popular. As far as other pastimes, Amish also enjoy activities like birding, hunting, singing, and playing certain musical instruments (harmonicas in more conservative communities, for example).
The Amish have a generally well-deserved reputation for their work ethic. But they also recognize the importance of recreation time with family, friends, and community, and you can see this in the wide variety of games that they play.