Seasonal Holidays: Easter


Figure 1.--This French-made English Easter card shows a boy wearing a white middy blouse with kneepants and long stockings.

Easter, like Christmas, is a blend of paganism and Christianity. The word Easter is derived from "Eostre", an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess. She symbolized the rebirth of the day at dawn and the rebirth of life in the spring. Easter and Christmas are the principal Christian hollidays. Even before Christianity, pagan peoples celebrated spring festivals as a time of renewal. These traditions were often incorporated into the Christian Easter celebrations. The principal symbolism of Easter is renewal and rebirt after a cold winter. So buying new spring clothes became an annual rithual for many. As with Christmas, the date of the celebration varies, but for different reasons. The Easter Basket shows roots in a Catholic custom. Baskets filled with breads, cheeses, hams, and other foods for Easter dinner were taken to mass Easter morning to be blessed. Easter among European Christians became in the 19th century to be the time for buying a new Spring outfit. The Easter bonnet and new clothes on Easter symbolize the end of the dreary winter and the beginning of the fresh, new spring. At the turn of the century, it was popular to stroll to church and home again to show off their "Sunday best".

Easter Traditions

Easter, like Christmas, is a blend of paganism and Christianity. The word Easter is derived from "Eostre", an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess. She symbolized the rebirth of the day at dawn and the rebirth of life in the spring. The arrival of spring was celebrated all over the world long before the religious meaning became associated with Easter. Now Easter celebrates the rebirth of Christ. Easter falls on the first Sunday on or following the spring Equinox after the full moon. The date has been calculated in this way since 325 AD. Lambs, chicks, and baby creatures are all associated with spring,symbolizing the birth of new life. Since ancient times, in many cultures, eggs have been associated with the universe. They've been dyed, decorated, and painted by the Romans, Gaul's, Persians, and the Chinese. They were used in spring festivals to represent the rebirth of life. As Christianity took hold the egg began to symbolize the rebirth of man rather than nature. A Polish folktale tells of the Virgin Mary giving eggs to soldiers at the cross as she pleading with them to be merciful. As her tears dropped they spattered droplets on the eggs mottling them with a myriad of colors. The Faberge egg is the best known of the decorated eggs. Peter Faberge made intricate, delicately decorated eggs. In 1883, the Russian Czar commissioned Faberge to make a special egg for his wife. During the 4th century consuming eggs during Lent became taboo. However, spring is the peak egg-laying time for hens. People began to cook eggs in their shells to preserve them. Eventually people began decorating and hiding them for children to find during Easter, which gave birth to the Easter Egg Hunt. Other egg-related games evolved like egg tossing and egg rolling. The Easter Bunny, a cute little rabbit that hides eggs for us to find on Easter. In the rites of spring the rabbit symbolized fertility. In a German book, 1682, a tale is told of a bunny laying eggs and hiding them in the garden.


Figure 2.--This American boy is pictured with his father and other relative with his Easter basket. The image is undated, but I would estimate the lare 1870s. The boys wears a kilt suit with a ruffled collar.

Easter Basket

The Easter Basket shows roots in a Catholic custom. Baskets filled with breads, cheeses, hams, and other foods for Easter dinner were taken to mass Easter morning to be blessed. I'm not sure just when this tradition began. This evolved into baskets filled with chocolate eggs, jellybeans, toys, and stuffed bunnies for children. Ciodren's easter baskets were well established traditions in the Victorian era. Im not sure how much ealier children celebrated with Easter baskets. I'm also not sure to what extent the tradition of Easter baskets varies between countries. I believe it was fairly wide spread in Europe and America.

New Clothes

Easter among European Christians became in the 19th century to be the time for buying a new Spring outfit. The Easter bonnet and new clothes on Easter symbolize the end of the dreary winter and the beginning of the fresh, new spring. At the turn of the century, it was popular to stroll to church and home again to show off their "Sunday best". Special attention is traditionally given to the girls, who not only got fancy new dresses, but a new Easter bonnet as well. New suits for boys were also also quite common. New suits for easter were, however, very common for boys from affluent families. Some of these suits during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries could indeed be very fancy. After World War I (1914-18), they common were the more ordinary suits worn by boys. An American reader writes, "Family photos on Easter Sunday are a memorable tradition! These photos are taken on a day of great significance of course on the Christian calendar. In our family my mother was the photographer. The "photo-op" took place after church before my brother and i could change into our everyday clothes. We would be posed facing the sun, and on bright, sunny days it was hard not to squint my eyes. And that, of course, was not the picture mother wanted. More often than not, it seems, Easter was cool and rainy, which was said to be another Easter tradition!" We have archieved several boys in their new Easter suits on HBC. One example is an unidentified American boy about the turn of the 20th century. We see the very large Ditz family in 1966. A good example of an American Catholic family all done up for Easter is the Casey family in 1966.


Figure 3.--This U.S. postcard was mailed in 1907. Note the wide-brimmed sailor hat. I am not surem, however, if the card was actually printed in America. It may havebeen printed in Britain or other European country.

Post Cards

Early 20th Century post cards show boys in a wide range of Easter themes and fancy dress. The cards seem to take a rather light-hearted approach to Easter rather than emphasizing the religious aspecrs. Bunnies and eggs were often featured. I'm not sure how many of these were actually worn. I don;t think the Easter cards are particularly helpful in showcasing children's clothing, but are interesting from a general xultural point of view. These outfits pictures range from Fauntleroy suits, kilts, sailor suits (often quite fancy ones), fancy French kneepants outfits, and may other styles. Often the outfits were rather fanciful. Some seem to be trying to avieve a folk look. These cards were printed in many European countries, although are less common in America. We have note a lot of French post cards with Easter themes. Many American postcards, until World War I, were imported from European companies.

Countries

Easter is of course an important event in Eutopean countries and in America. It is perhaps the single most important day in the Christain calendar. We have not yet collected much information on Easter traditions in different countries, although we have begun to work on the subject. Some of the differences come from the different denomimations, especially Catholic, Orthodox, and Protesrant. There are, however many purely national differences as well. It is interesting to note how the same religious tradition has developed so many national different national traditions. The same is true of Christmas , the other major Christian celebration.

Celebration Date

The timing of Easter comes from the Jewish Calendar which is lunar base. The Orthodox Easter is always AFTER the Jewish Passover. Although the explanation is difficult, you can see why the Orthodox Christians hold Easter after the Jewish passover, since Jesus Christ was crucified after the Jewish Passover. Here is an excerpt from "The Proposal for a Common Date to Celebrate Pascha and Easter". "Pascha (Easter) should be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox, and that, moreover, it must not coincide with the celebration of the Jewish Pascha (Passover) but must occur thereafter so as to preserve the order of the events during the week of our Lordís Passion. Since the Julian calendar was in universal use at that time, the date of 21 March according to that calendar was fixed to mark the vernal equinox. This is necessary, of course, since using the astronomic observation of the equinox as some have imprudently suggested would cause a six-month displacement between the celebration of Pascha in the northern and southern hemispheres."







HBC






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Created: May 1, 1999
Last updated: 7:34 PM 11/1/2008