The Amish community is known for their simple way of life and their strong sense of community. One of the most fascinating traditions of the Amish is the barn-raising, where the entire community comes together to build a barn for a neighbor in need. In this guide, we'll explore the history, process, and significance of this unique practice.
🚜 The Role of Community in Amish Barn-Raising
The Amish barn-raising tradition is a testament to the importance of community in Amish culture. The entire community comes together to help a neighbor in need, working together to build a barn in just one day. This practice not only helps the individual in need, but also strengthens the bonds between community members and reinforces the values of cooperation and mutual support.
🔨 What Is An Amish Barn-Raising?
An Amish barn-raising is a community event in which Amish and Mennonite people come together to help build a barn for one of their neighbors. The event is often, but not always, held on a Saturday and hundreds of Amish workers from many communities can attend.
The barn raising begins with a prayer, and then the men gather to cut and shape the timbers. The women prepare a meal for everyone, and they also help to gather supplies. The Amish are still a culture very much defined by gender roles, with the men assuming the "physical labor" tasks with women in more of an auxiliary role.
Once the timbers are ready, the men begin to raise the barn. They work together in a coordinated effort. Depending on the community, you might find only hand tools being used, but more and more it is not uncommon to find power tools or "hybrid" tools in use. The barn is typically raised in one day, and it is a testament to the strength and cooperation of the Amish community.
Amish barn raisings are more than just a way to build a barn. They are also a way for the community to come together and support one another. The Amish believe that it is important to help their neighbors, and barn raisings are a way for them to do that.
Barn raisings are also a way for the Amish to pass on their traditional skills to the next generation. The young men who participate in barn raisings learn how to build barns, and they also learn the importance of hard work and cooperation.
Amish barn raisings are a beautiful example of the Amish community's commitment to helping one another. They are also a reminder of the importance of traditional skills.
🧰 Barn-Raisings in Popular Culture
Community events like barn-raising used to be commonplace across many different societal groups in the United States, non-Amish and Amish.
As society, however, has modernized and fragmented, community and church bonds have loosened and frayed. So you just don’t find as many events like barnraisings. The rarity and quaintness of these events are what capture the imagination when it comes to Amish barn-raising. Plus, it's just amazing to see how fast a barn can go up with enough Amish worker bees on the project!
There’s a wonderful scene in the Harrison Ford classic movie Witness that depicts a barn raising. As somebody who has been around this type of activity, I can tell you that was a fairly realistic scene. Perhaps a bit idyllic and less chaotic than a real life barn raising (after all the Witness scene was about 10 minutes, in real life they have a whole day), but it was a pretty good depiction.
In the Witness scene entitled "Building a Barn" , it starts with Harrison Ford's character, Detective John Book, arriving at a barn-raising. Both Book and another young man are vying for the affection of Rachel, a young Amish widow. The young man inquires about Book's health and indicates that he should go home soon. But the barn-raising transcends the romantic rivals, they even share a lemonade and tools throughout the scene as the barn takes shape. The musical score in the background, while wholly unrealistic, just makes the scene that much more engaging.
There have been barn-raisings depicted in other movies, but Witness remains the gold-standard.
🛠️ What is a Frolic?
The whole concept of a barn-raising is the “many hands make light work “ concept on steroids. But sometimes you don’t need 400 men to complete a project. Sometimes you just need a dozen people to clean out a shed, till the garden, put up a fence, or clean out some gutters or something like that. On occasions like that, someone will host a quote from a "frolic" which may come from the German word fröhlich (happy/cheerful) at a church member's house. Usually, it is held at the home of somebody in the church, perhaps an elderly person who just can’t get things done as well. Or younger couple or a widow. At a frolic, you’ll have perhaps a dozen to 20 people show up, get to work, and get things done. And usually, they will be a few women there to provide support in terms of meals and drinks and perhaps childcare
Both barn-raisings and frolics are wonderful Illustrations of the sense of community that the Amish still espouse. The Amish are not just building a barn, they’re building community. Along with the work, there’s a chance for fellowship and the opportunity to meet church members they might not otherwise cross paths with.
🚜 How Common Are Amish Barn-Raisings?
I had a friend who befriended an Amish couple years ago and they invited her and her husband to their house for a meal. My friend excitedly said “maybe I’ll see a barn raising while I’m visiting!“… And I waved off the suggestion and said “nah, they just aren’t that common.“
And on their first visit, they see a barn raising. My friend didn’t let me live that down!
Yet, I stand by my comment. Barnraisings in Amish country are not as common as fictional materials would have you believe. This is for several reasons. First of all, in larger, older, established Amish communities, there just aren’t a lot of barns going up. There are plenty of barns, they are sturdy, and there’s just not a lot of need for a bunch of new barns go up. This is especially true as the Amish move away from farming.
In newer communities, the Amish tend to buy pre-existing properties rather than build from scratch.
That being said, barn-raisings do happen. Just not as often as they used to. Lightning can strike a barn and burn it down and there’s a need for a new one. Other types of fires. Wind damage. Barn raising are still a thing in Amish country and you are lucky if you get to see one!
❓FAQ About Amish Barn-Raisings
Traditionally, the Amish have just used manual tools. But increasingly, battery-powered tools and implements hooked up to generators are showing up at barn-raising type events.
They often finish most of it in a day, that makes it easier for people's schedules. Instead of taking two days off work, they can just do it one. Often the bulk of the barn is put up in a day, but a smaller crew of men will stick around to put the finishing touches on in the coming days.
Amish women pitch in by providing meals, drinks, childcare, and fetching tools and materials as needed.