After the Civil War, Americans were devastated by the bloodshed and the sense of loss. They looked to their religion and the New Testament story of the resurrection which gave them a sense of comfort. Many Americans, both in the North and the South, adopted an American Easter tradition after the war.
The Easter Bunny
Although not all Americans are Christians, they recognize the cuddly Easter Bunny tradition which came to America from Victorian England. They tell tales about this magic rabbit who lays eggs and hops around during the spring and leaves colored eggs and candy for all the good children to enjoy.
German immigrants brought some traditions to the United States in the 17th century, which included boys and girls hiding their bonnets and caps for the Easter Bunny who filled them with eggs. Those bonnets later morphed into Easter baskets which represented birds’ nests for the collection of eggs. With time those hard boiled, dyed eggs became chocolate eggs and bunnies.
The Easter Meal
Easter is all about the rejoicing of the resurrection and the breaking of the Lenten fast. The tradition of serving ham at Easter dinner has never been meant as an offensive break from the Jewish tradition. However in the United States, ham was a meat easily preserved by a curing process which took several months beginning in the fall and winter, and these hams were ready in time for the Easter feast.
The Easter Parade
The parade has been a favorite American tradition, but it is on the decline now. The largest one can be found in New York City and it is a major tourist attraction. Tourists to Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlantic City enjoy those parades even though they are on a less grand scale than the New York City version. The parades are still favorites in small towns across the country where the local marching bands display their talents. They lead dressed-up ladies in their Easter bonnets and gentlemen through the town for the admiration of spectators.
In New Orleans the annual Easter carnival is “Mardi Gras” with its parades, jazz music and parties. The festivities go on for several days and peak on “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday.
The Easter Bonnet
The bonnet is an integral part of a lady’s attire in the parade and the tradition dates back to the 16th century in Europe. Its origin derives from an idea of wearing new garments at the close of Lent to represent life reborn. When the Depression hit the US in the 1930s and early 1940s, very few people could afford the luxury of a new hat. But they learned to “make do” by resurrecting their old hats and redecorating them.
The roots of Easter trace back to the pagan spring fertility rituals and has persevered in different forms through Christianity over the centuries. Christmas and Easter are the two most popular holidays in the U.S. and although each holiday means different things to different people, everyone can enjoy at least some aspect of the celebrations.