Easter Sunday has now passed, but Eastertide lasts for 50 days up to Christ’s ascension into heaven. So, while we are still in Easter mode, for those who celebrate, let’s delve into an Easter tradition: the Easter bonnet.
The Easter bonnet got its start in Europe where people would wear new clothes and hats to celebrate the cycle of new life and rebirth that spring and Easter represent. The first bonnets were circles of leaves and flowers to reflect the cycle of the seasons. This was the time when parishioners not only went to church on Easter Sunday, but also attended the rest of the days of the week as well, giving everyone the opportunity so see how everyone was decked out!
It wasn’t until after the Civil War ended that a similar tradition started in America. With so many families in mourning for all of the lives lost, the first Easter after the war ended was known as the “Sunday of Joy”. The female relatives of those lost rejoiced in their risen Lord by shedding their somber mourning clothes and exchanging them for pastel fabrics and spring flowers. One can only imagine the psychological impact as these women shed their mourning clothes to become alive again with hope for a brighter future now that the war was over.
A tradition was started, and a decade later the first Easter parade was held in New York City. In 1933 Irving Berlin recorded Easter Parade that brought the bonnets pop culture fame: “In your easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the easter parade…” The tradition kept growing with over one million people participating in the 1947 parade. A year later, Irving Berlin immortalized them in the film, Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire where people strolled from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Fifth Ave joined by other church’s parishioners along the way with everyone doing his best to impress.
I recall as a kindergartner at Emmaus Lutheran on Broadway in the early ‘60s making Easter bonnets out of cardboard and decorating them. The girls walked in a circle so the moms and ladies in attendance could admire them. What I remember most, is my mom gave me a small bee to include on my hat. The women were tickled at the extra touch of a bee in my bonnet.
Today, Easter parades are still held in cities across the USA, but their popularity peaked decades ago. One enduring nice thing about Easter bonnets is they serve young babies and small children well as a shield from the sun; not to mention how adorable they look in them! Last year down at Born Again Quilts a few were made out of hand towels and fabric remnants. A yellow one was trimmed with a piece of narrow tatting found in a box of needlework do-dads. COVID -19 reared its ugly head and BAQ was forced to close and Easter Services were conducted virtually. So now, as the pandemic seems to be under better control, just like the women on that first “Sunday of Joy” we can now begin to walk again in the light with our Easter bonnets signaling our Easter exuberance!