by Kate Heyhoe
In your Easter bonnet
With all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade...
...On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue,
The photographers will snap us
And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet
About your Easter bonnet
And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter Parade.
— The Easter Parade, words and music by Irving Berlin, 1933
From bonnets to bunnies, Easter lore traces back to pre-Christian societies as well as church-decreed customs, including variations developed by local villages and peoples. The egg, for instance, universally symbolizes new life and fertility. Long before Christ was born, the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and other cultures habitually colored eggs in the springtime, offering them as gifts to reflect the rebirth of the earth. In fact, Middle Eastern cultures believed the earth itself was hatched from a single magnificent egg.
I've gathered some good recipes for using up Easter's hard-cooked eggs, along with some Easter lore to entertain you while you peel and eat. A safety tip to follow: don't eat hard-cooked eggs that have been left out for two hours or longer— you run the risk of food born illness. If you have leftover Easter eggs that are not advisable to eat, then do as the Slavs do: toss them in the lake to help ensure fruitful offspring by the geese and ducks. Or, play one of the many Easter games using hard-cooked eggs. In a medieval version of "hot potato," a priest would throw a hard-cooked egg to a choirboy, who then tossed it to the next choirboy and so on. When the clock struck 12, the egg holder was the winner and kept the egg. Another game is played like marbles, using hardcooked eggs instead of glass marbles. Or, for a good time with young ones, simply roll the eggs across the lawn as in the White House Egg Roll.
In the early days of the church, the newly baptized wore white robes for the baptismal ceremony and during Easter week. Others wore new clothes at Easter to represent their participation in Christ's new life. After Easter mass, medieval worshippers, dressed in their new clothes, formed a procession through the streets, lead by a crucifix. Later, the custom of walking to or from church on Easter Sunday, bedecked in new clothes and Easter bonnets, evolved into the Easter parade. Begun in 1860, New Jersey's Atlantic City Easter Parade featured finely clothed citizens strolling along the boardwalk, and New York City soon sported its now famous Fifth Avenue Easter Parade. Similar parades sprung up across the country, many with prizes for best dress and bonnets, and the frillier the bonnet, the better. Few Easter parades still exist in modern times, and the Easter bonnet is largely a fashion relic of the past.
The Easter Parade starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, and co-starring Peter Lawford and Ann Miller (MGM, 1948), was the second highest grossing film of the year, and won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In this Irving Berlin spectacular, Astaire plays a dancer whose partner abandons the act. In a Pygmalian type of effort, he takes on a new partner: Judy Garland. This is the only picture in which the two superstars worked together. Gene Kelly was originally cast in the lead but broke his ankle prior to filming. Similarly, Ann Miller won her part when Cyd Charisse injured her knee and had to be taken off the picture.
In Sweden, witches or "Easter hags" were once believed to be especially powerful and active in the week prior to Easter— flying around on broomsticks, getting caught in chimneys, congregating in church towers and such. Today, on Easter eve, youngsters dress up as Easter hags and leave decorated letters for their neighbors, in hopes of getting a treat or coin in return.
Eastern Europeans follow the tradition of placing olive branches at Easter ceremonies, but with a slight twist: they use readily available willow branches instead of the impossible to find olive branches. Willows are the first flower to bloom in the spring, and as such represent rebirth. In Poland, boys lightly swat the girls with willow switches on Switching Day, celebrating the end of Lent, and the girls return the custom on Easter Tuesday.
White and pure, the lily was the medieval symbol of purity and the Virgin Mary. Blooming in spring and being so pristine, the lily became the flowering representation of Easter and the resurrection of Christ. Earlier Greek mythology, though, relates the lily as milk which fell to the earth from Juno, queen of the Greek gods, as she nursed her son Hercules; the Milky Way galaxy was believed to be the milk that spilled but did not fall to earth. The prim and prudish Victorians adorned their churches with lilies, but not without removing the suggestive stamens and pistols from them first.
Easter is a hugely celebrated affair in Mexico. Baptisms, passion plays, and solemn processions mingle with fireworks, dances, music and feasts. As is typical in Mexico, Indian rituals are woven into the culture as strongly as Catholic ones. In the San Cristobal de las Casas area, town elders race around with ribboned hats and staffs, deterring demons away from the resurrection. In Chichen Itza, the famed Mayan pyramid El Castillo puts on its own natural display: the feathered snake god appears to slither down the pyramid—but on one day only, the vernal equinox, when the sun's light precisely hits the balustrade in a remarkable example of Mayan architectural accuracy. In other spring events, town festivities include 3-ring circuses, bullfights, cockfights, rodeos, ballets, and the favorite treat of San Marcos Day on April 25th: charamusca, animal- or people-shaped taffy covered in nuts.
Easter festivities don't end on Easter Sunday—at least not in Washington DC, that is. Since 1878, the annual White House Egg Roll occurs on the Monday after Easter, canceled in the past only by bad weather and a couple World Wars. Actually, the annual egg roll (the act of rolling a hard cooked egg across the lawn) began as early as the mid-1870's; it was held first on Capitol Hill—until our Congress banned it. It seems the popular event did much damage to the Capitol lawn, and our distinguished leaders had no room in their budgets for repairing the landscaping.
In 1878, the first year the ban was enforced (it took effect in 1877 but it rained that year), then President Rutherford B. Hayes was approached by young lads and lasses about rolling eggs on the South Lawn of the White House. Being a shrewd politician, he smilingly agreed and, with his wife Lucy at his side, cheerfully greeted the crowds who had been turned away at the Capitol. The White House lawn became their new egg rolling site, officially sanctioned by the President himself. Today, this public event continues with additional egg games, an appearance by the official White House Easter Bunny, and all participants receive a wooden egg, with signatures of the President and First Lady.
Kate's Global Kitchen for April, 2000:
4/01/00 Food Jokes and Joke Foods
4/08/00 Easter and Passover Menus: From Nice to Greece
4/15/00 Spring Centerpiece Sides: Phyllo Baskets, Veggie Matchsticks, and Glorious Gratins
4/22/00 Easter Lore & Post-Easter Eggs
4/29/00 Wake-Up: It's Daylight Savings Time! World Power Breakfasts
This page created April 2000
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