by Lyn Horner
“An Easter Bonnet represents the tail-end of a tradition of wearing new clothes at Easter . . . .” ~~Wikipedia
But did you know Easter bonnets actually pre-date Easter itself? It’s true. In pagan times a circlet of leaves and flowers symbolized the coming of spring and rebirth. Later, Christians adopted the same symbols for new life and redemption at Easter.
The Easter bunny also evolved from pagan roots. On the Vernal Equinox in pre-Christian Germany, feasts celebrated Eostra, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Eostra was symbolized by a rabbit. Remember the expression breed like rabbits?
1907 Postcard of the Easter Bunny ~ from Wikipedia Commons
When Catholicism blended with pagan beliefs in 15th century Germany, Easter celebrations usurped the bunny and eggs to stand for the resurrection of Christ. Later, German settlers brought the tradition of egg-laying bunnies to America in the 1700s. Their children made nests for colored eggs – called Osterhase.
However, Easter wasn’t celebrated by all early Americans, especially the Puritans. Author Steve Englehart says, “They knew that pagans had celebrated the return of spring long before Christians celebrated Easter…for the first two hundred years of European life in North America, only a few states, mostly in the south, paid much attention to Easter.”
It took the Civil War to make Easter an accepted holiday in this country. In the south, Easter was called “The Sunday of Joy.” Widows, mothers and daughters gave up wearing black, donning pastel colors and spring flowers, perhaps signaling the beginning of new life for them.
Around 1870, the German tradition of coloring eggs became widely popular, and parents started giving small treats to their children. The 1870s also introduced New York City’s famed Easter Parade, which wended its way from St. Patrick’s Cathedral down Fifth Avenue. I’m sure you all recall Irving Berlin’s song:
In your Easter bonnet
with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
Easter Parade, 1900 ~ from Wikipedia Commons
What about on the western frontier? Did pioneer women dress up in new clothes and fancy bonnets to celebrate Easter when just getting to church could be a hard, dangerous undertaking? Maybe not, but as life became a bit more settled, I bet they did. Frontier moms also colored eggs with their kids. (See Tanya Hanson’s post “To Dye For” from April 16th.)