Many of our current Christmas and Easter traditions originated back in the Victorian era which covered the duration of Queen Victoria’s reign over the UK from 1837 to 1901. At that time England was emerging from its historic Puritanical bans on celebrations. The people at that time were filled with joy and hope as they embraced a new world of merry celebrations and traditions. Today many of these Victorian traditions are still popular and there is no sign that they will be abandoned.
The Easter Holiday
Easter is one of the major Christian festivals of the year in the UK. The participants enjoy its customs, folklore and traditional foods. It is an ancient holiday dating back to pagan times long before Christianity arrived in Britain. The first English historian, the Venerable Bede, wrote that Easter derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn and spring–Eostre.
Easter falls at the end of the winter and the end of Lent, which is a time of fasting during the Christian calendar. This is a joyful holiday marked by feasting, fun and celebration. The British national holidays for Easter come on the Friday before Easter Sunday and the Monday afterward. The schools are closed for two weeks and the children devour chocolate in large quantities.
A large variety of Victorian traditions have survived the years. One favorite is Easter cards, which began in the late 18th century when a publisher added an Easter greeting to a drawing of a bunny on writing stationery. Sending the cards is a fun practice which is now growing in the US as well.
The Easter Lily became popular in symbolizing life after death, since the bulb grows, blooms, dies back and grows once again during the following year. Although tulips, daffodils and narcissus follow the same life cycle, the lily with its large size and white blossom is an excellent symbol of resurrection during the season.
Easter parades allow the participants in the processional to show off their spring finery after Easter Mass as they stroll through the streets following a priest or minister with a crucifix or a candle. The Easter bonnet became a favorite adornment for women and girls to show off as they walked. During Victorian times, a beau might give a pair of gloves to his sweetheart and if she wore them during the parade, she was announcing her acceptance of his marriage proposal.
The children were especially excited when they awoke on Easter morning to see what the Easter bunny had brought them for their Easter baskets. If they had been good throughout the year, they could expect a variety of chocolate eggs and bunnies, jelly beans and other sweet treats. Egg rolling contests and Easter egg hunts were/are a favorite pastime during this holiday.
In some areas, Morris dancers perform a folk dance which has roots dating back to the Middle Ages. The men dress in colorful costumes with hats and ribbons. They also wear bells around their ankles as they dance through the streets. Some carry sticks with inflated pigs’ bladders tied on the end. When they dance up to young women, they smack them over the head with the bladder. This is supposed to bring them luck. One wonders just what kind of luck the lady might find afterward–or is it the young man who gets lucky?
This is the Thursday before Easter, commonly remembered as the Last Supper, when Christ washed his disciples’ feet as an act of humility. The word “Maundy” comes from the French word, “Mande,” which means “command.” The Ceremony of the Royal Maundy in Britain dates back to Edward I.
It is traditional for the British Queen to participate in the ceremony. She distributes Maundy Money in white and red purses to senior citizens which amounts to one man and woman for each year of her own age. This tradition dates back to at least the 17th century when the royal sovereign washed the feet of some poor people as a gesture of humility. The last royal monarch to participate in this version of the tradition was James II.
The British continue to enjoy their Victorian Easter traditions which they still practice today. As a side note, today the Easter Bunny is just as popular as Santa Claus.