Off to the Fair!

Memories of Bonfire Night (1950s)

Memories of Midsummer Picnics

Memories of Pancake Day
(Shrove Tuesday) 1950-ish

Memories of Easter Time

Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Easter Time

When I was growing up, Easter wasn’t just one day - it was a whole season. We even had three weeks holiday from school! (Of course, if you add all the holidays over the year together, we didn’t get nearly as much time off school as they do now). There were many customs and superstitions observed at Easter time. Some are Christian, some are much older, and often the traditions have become intertwined. Here are some of the things I can remember from my childhood in England.

I remember everything being fresh and clean. The sun always seemed to shine at Easter, and you knew it was really spring. The local church (traditionally devoid of decoration for the period before Easter, was gloriously decorated with a blaze of flowers to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. There were always beautiful white Easter Lilies on the altar, for purity. We always got a new piece of clothing at Easter. Everyone dressed up in their finest clothes to go to church or to see the parade which would be held later in the day. One part of the outfit was very important, especially for the children - the Easter Bonnet!

Often there would be a parade where hand-made bonnets were shown off. A few days before Easter, Mum would produce plain straw sun-hats (which we saved year after year), lots of coloured crepe paper, and a bag full of scraps of cloth, ribbon, beads and so on. Then we would make paper flowers and bows to decorate our "Easter Bonnets". Once, I made one using wild flowers (from the waste ground across the road), and a big piece of chiffon which I draped around and tied in a big bow under my chin. I won a prize for that one!

Mum showed us how to "blow" eggs - empty out the contents through a pinhole and leave the shells intact. We would "inject" liquid chocolate, unset jello or similar, seal up the holes, and start to decorate the egg shells. We would use water colour paints to colour exquisite scenes, glue on beads, glitter, sequins, or silver paper, wrap them in ribbon, or paste on little pictures cut from birthday cards. On Easter Day, we would present the finished and filled eggs to friends and family members who were supposed to break them and eat the little treat inside. (This may have been a tradition that was limited to our family only). There were always lots of chocolate eggs too. In those days, you could buy hollow ones and fill them with special treats, then "seal" them with white Royal Icing - which could also be used to write the name of the intended recipient. Oh, yes, and we’d also make tiny eggs from coloured marzipan, wrap them in silver paper (carefully saved from candies), and give them to our dollies.

My grandmother told me about "egg rolling" which was popular when she was a girl. People took eggs to the top of a bank and rolled them down. The first one to get to the bottom uncracked was the winner.

Easter, of course, has it’s food traditions, just like any other festival, and after the Lenten fast, people were ready for a good tuck-in! Food was also symbolic. The Easter meal was special and there would often be guests. Eggs are the most familiar symbol of Easter, are a symbol of new life, and Easter breakfast was invariably soft boiled eggs. Sometimes Mum would wwrap the eggs in onion skins before boiling them to make a pretty pattern on the shells. We made little egg cozies for them - I remember one in the shape of a chicken’s head and one that looked like an Easter bonnet. The main meal was eaten at lunch time, as were all holiday meals at our house, and would most often be roast lamb (which in those days was lamb not mutton!) To represent the Lamb (Christ) that had been sacrificed for us. However, I do recall having chicken on a few occasions. Sometimes Mum would mold the butter into the shape of a lamb as well. Dessert was either fruit and cream or a baked custard pie. Easter tea (A meal around 4.00 pm in England) would feature a succulent glazed ham, with fresh green salad and big juicy tomatoes. There would probably be a raised meat pie (veal and ham or possibly rabbit - I didn’t ask!) And wedges of cheese with slices of home made bread and butter too. Then there were the cakes - little fancy iced ones, big Victoria sponges and always one that was decorated to look like a bird’s nest with little speckled eggs and fluffy yellow chicks in it.

The week before Easter is called Holy Week, and it begins with Palm Sunday for the palm leaves that people waved to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Children were given little crosses made from palm leaves from church or from their school. Later in the week we have Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It was (and is) traditional to eat Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. These sweet, spicy fruit buns, marked with a cross were a delicious treat either toasted or cold with lashings of real butter. We used to chant out the song used by early Victorian street vendors to advertise their wares: "Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny two a penny hot cross buns. If you have no daughters, give them to your sons, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. "

Sometimes the fair would arrive in town, and my older siblings would take me to see it - but never on a Sunday - such things were not allowed. It was during Holy Week one year, that I had my first glimpse of Morris Dancers. One of these all male dance troupes was visiting a village near to where we lived, and Mum took us all out on the bus to see them. Morris dancing is a traditional form of folk dance, which dates back at least as far as the Middle Ages. The men, wearing white costumes with hats all bedecked with ribbons and bells around their knees and ankles, dance in the streets. One of them (called the "Fool" though often the most talented dancer) carries an inflated pig’s bladder on a stick. He weaves through the dancers seemingly trying to confuse them and hitting them over the head with the pig’s bladder!

Another activity we used to love doing as part of our Easter preparations was to make an "Easter Garden. " This was a kind of tableau of the Easter story, which we put together in an old meat pan. The pan was filled with garden soil, and we used moss for grassy bits, sand or gravel for paths, and small plants for "trees". Sometimes we used figures for the people, but more often it was just a garden. It had a mound with three crosses (made from sticks), and a "tomb" made from a little pot on it’s side, pushed into the mound and camouflaged with stones, moss and greenery, with a round stone rolled to the side. Once we got very ambitious and tried to make the tomb from paper mache - what a mess! - it was back to stones after that.

Easter in England was a lot more than an excuse to tuck into chocolate Easter eggs and hot cross buns, although that was fun too!

By Sylvia Richards January 2010