Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Bonnets

As the Easter long weekend is almost upon us, I thought I'd write a little about Victorian Easter customs.

Easter of course is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It is celebrated the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (wow that's a mouthful). Many of the symbols and traditions date back to pagan times. Easter eggs date back thousands of years, when eggs were decorated and given as tokens of good luck and fertility during the spring equinox. In eastern Europe eggs are still decorated with elaborate patterns. In western Europe royalty sometimes had eggs decorated in gold leaf, while regular folk would dye theirs with different plants to produce different colors.

The name Easter, is derived from
The Germanic goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre. She was symbolized by rabbits and hares, symbols which carried over when the Spring Equinox traditions became Christianized.
German settlers took their traditions with them when they settled in America. In the 18th century their children would make a nest in the barn from a cap or bonnet for the "Ostra Hare" to lay a nest of colored eggs in on Easter morning. This tradition spread to the other settlers, and became the Eater Bunny.

The first Easter treats were made in Germany, though were from candy, rather than chocolate. Marzipan shaped rabbits were a particular favorite.
Chocolate Easter eggs were made in France and Germany in the early 19th century, though were small and made from bittersweet chocolate. The first mass produced chocolate eggs were made by Cadbury in 1873. From there, the eggs became more elaborate, including ones decorated with icing, and of course, chocolate rabbits soon followed.

The tradition of the Easter Bonnet, goes back to at least Medieval times when people were encouraged to wear their best clothes to Easter service. After the restrictions of Lent, many would buy new clothes to show off and to represent the renewal of spring. Victorians continued this custom, with women donning elaborate hats and outfits. They would then parade their new clothes after church in an Easter Parade.

The tradition has died out somewhat, though I still like getting new clothes or a new hairdo in spring. How about you? What do you do for spring/Easter?
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  1. I remember my mother would always buy me a new Easter bonnet every year. :)

  2. I love these posts- so informative! Never knew about the "history" of our Easter treats.

    I used to get new clothes for Easter, but now that I'm an adult I'm just too lazy to get a new dress every year just for Easter Sunday. But I always do wear my best church dress that day.

  3. This clears up a lot of questions about what chocolate rabbits have to do with Jesus. ;-D Very interesting to know it's yet another holiday that started off VERY different from what it is now!