What Is Rumspringa? 'Expecting Amish' Gives the Tradition a Lifetime Makeover

With Breaking Amish, Return to Amish, and, now, Expecting Amish — a Lifetime movie premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. — the Amish are having a bit of a pop-cultural moment, aren't they? Mostly, these are all focused on rumspringa (or something like it), where young Amish people leave their communities and experience the outside world for the first time. In a global culture where it seems like everyone across the world is posting the same links on the same social networks, there's just something infinitely compelling about seeing the modern world through the eyes of someone who's never really interacted with it before.

That's the case for Expecting Amish protagonist Hannah Yoder, played by AJ Michalka. Before the 18-year-old gets baptized as an adult into the Amish church, she goes on rumspringa in Los Angeles with a few friends. There, she's exposed to all the good stuff we take for granted but is strictly off-limits in the Amish world: makeup, parties, and hookups with boys. She meets a young DJ named Josh, played by Jesse McCartney, and, when she returns home — whoops! — she's pregnant. She then has to decide whether or not she wants to leave her church for a life with Josh.

This is clearly the stuff that Lifetime movies are made of. But could it happen in real life? What is rumspringa, exactly, and does it really happen the way it does in TV and movies?

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Yeah, rumspringa is pretty much what you'd guess from its portrayal in pop culture. It's a period where Amish teenagers are allowed to explore beyond the confines of their strict religious upbringing. In 2006, author Tom Shachtman wrote the book Rumspringa: To Be or Not To Be Amish, where he delved into the rite of passage. In an excerpt on NPR, he describes a party attended by a group of girls on rumspringa: "Each Amish girl performs at least one of many actions that have been forbidden to her throughout her childhood: lights up a cigarette, grabs a beer, switches on the rock and rap music on the car radio or CD player, converses loudly and in a flirtatious manner with members of the opposite sex."

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Okay, that seems like an innocent enough rebellion. But it doesn't just end there. Shachtman goes on to describe teenagers trying meth and cocaine, getting into fistfights, and, yes, getting pregnant like Hannah Yoder in Expecting Amish.

In other words, it kind of sounds like spring break. Which is fitting, in a way, because Expecting Amish has a few things in common with Spring Breakers. Expecting Amish may not be the "the perfect blend of art and commerce," as Hannah Horvath described Spring Breakers on Girls, but they both star ex-Disney Channel fixtures (AJ Michalka for Amish, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez for Breakers). They both look into what happens when former a group of girls decide to rebel. And, in both cases, the main characters can't return to who they were when their trips are over.