Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Sunday of Joy

by Lyn Horner

“An Easter Bonnet represents the tail-end of a tradition of wearing new clothes at Easter . . . .” ~~Wikipedia

Easter bonnet

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?

Easter bunny

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

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.)

Easter bonnets and pretty new dresses still mark the beginning of spring, warm weather and new life. How about you? Are you wearing your Easter bonnet on this Sunday of Joy?Happy Easter


  1. I've always wondered how the Easter Bunny got there, and why they were so popular in Germany! Great post. I tweeted.

  2. Loved your post, Lyn. And remember, don't wear white shoes until after Easter! A joyous Easter to you, my friend.

  3. I wish we did still wear hats, Lyn. My difficult hair is perfect to hide under a pretty hat. Plus, I felt so much more dressed up when wearing a hat. Happy Easter to you and yours!

  4. Isn't it funny how some holiday traditions/customs cross over into different religions. During Passover, the tradition Seder (a tray with symbolic foods on it) has a hardboiled egg to represent eternal life.
    I remember as a kid, Mom would buy my sister and I Sunday dresses and bonnets. I loved hats, still do even though they're not in style. I even have some vintage ones.
    Great blog, Lyn. I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. Lyn, what a great post. I didn't know celebrating Easter was so relatively recent! That's amazing. Yes, as a child, I played the old Irving Berlin classic on the piano. One of my mom's favorites--she loved the opportunity for buying (or making!) all her daughters beautiful Easter dresses, and we wore little bonnets or hats, white gloves and carried white handbags. I remember my white anklets and Mary Jane white patent shoes. LOL Couldn't wait to get home from church and change so I could hunt eggs! LOL Great post. I learned something new today!

  6. Hello ladies, sorry I didn't get here sooner to answer your comments. We went to our son's place yesterday and by the time we got home -- through a downpour -- I was beat. Then today, I had my regular Monday Author Meetup to post, plus we have workers crawling around -- literally -- the laundry room and guest bathroom, installing floor tile. Not conducive to writing!

  7. Oops! I hit send by accident. Meant to say thank you for taking precious time to read my post. I learned a lot, too, from researching Easter.

    I hope you all had a wonderful day yesterday.

  8. There's a lot of information here I didn't know. Very interesting. I did recall it was earlier a pagan ritual, and isn't that the way some of our other celebrations have begun. Thanks for the bits of knowledge. I enjoyed it. Sorry I'm late!

  9. No worries, Celia. I was late getting here to reply too.

    It has become more and more clear to me that many of our Christian traditions stem from earlier cultures. There's nothing new under the sun.

  10. Hi Lyn, great post. I am sad that Easter bonnets seem a thing of the past. Nobody, not even the little girls, wore them at church last Sunday. Sheesh. And well, I didn't wear on either but I wore dressy jeans. I did wear a "fascinator" last year with a pretty dress...but admit I got them both for my niece's bridal shower when we held a fancy tea LOL.

    Loved the info here and the pix.


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