This Is What Easter Has Looked Like Throughout History
Easter Sunday brings with it the promise of hope, forgiveness, renewed life, and new beginnings—people all around the world celebrate this holiday with bunnies and baskets, fresh flowers and fashionable new clothes. Historians trace back the early origins to pagan rituals that described the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre, as cradling a woven basket in the crook of her arm. Modern affiliations with Easter—bunnies, baskets, and candy delivered to good little children—can be traced to German immigrants who arrived to America in the 1700s. Easter celebrations provided a bright spot during the Great Depression and the Second World War. The rationing of chocolate in WWII never stopped our sweet taste for it, and Cadbury's Creme Eggs still became one of the most popular treats in children's Easter baskets. Easter parades, egg hunts, and games made it a day of relaxation as well as one of celebration.
Most of these photos are slices of life in the United of America, but we included a few shots from around the world. The influences from cultures are obvious when we take a closer look at the many traditions, meaningful colors, and how events like war and economic depression influence our daily lives. One of the photos shows a young girl, dirt on her face, as she eyes a large chocolate Easter egg during the Great Depression, when things like chocolate were a luxury.
Our walk of Easter throughout history covers the 1800s to today. As captured in photographs, see how people have celebrated and traditions have changed through the years from the 1800s and 1900s up to modern day.
Don't let anyone say that people in the 19th century couldn't have a good time! These folks lined up for a photo in their Easter finest in 1892, and some of the young ladies decided to kick up their heels a little bit and laugh with glee.
Twenty years before this photo was taken, the first annual White House Easter Egg Roll was held on April 22, 1878, after President Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to open the White House grounds on Easter Monday to children who want to roll Easter eggs.
In the early days of New York City's Easter Parade, the wealthy people of New York walked down Fifth Avenue dressed in their Sunday finest. Women showed off their Easter bonnets, and men wore their best top hats. Local restaurants and shops got an economic boost from the parade-goers.
In Washington, DC, a group of children rehearsed the Easter hymns that they were to perform on Easter morning before President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady. Coolidge's inauguration in March was the first to be broadcast on radio. As a result, he became considered the "first radio President."
Founded in 1824 (and later weathering the rationing of chocolate through WWII), Cadbury's Chocolate became a household name. Two women worked together to make the famous cream-filled eggs that people already associated with the Easter season. Children would have been thrilled to find these eggs in their baskets.
A chocolate Easter egg sure was a treat for this little California girl. This was the year before the start of WWII, and the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Candy could make a huge difference for people who had to ration almost everything.
The tradition of exchanging baskets can be traced back to German immigrants and their lore of a mythological rabbit touting treats and toys. Here, German actress Hilde Weissner and her daughter, Viola, share a special moment.
Easter hats could get really elaborate. The Easter parade in New York City was the perfect excuse to wear one of these hats, which were topped with flowers, leaves, and a giant bunny peeking out of it. The tradition reached its peak by the mid-20th century, and in 1948, the popular film Easter Parade was released starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. The title song includes the lyrics: "In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it/You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade."
Two young brothers show off their Easter goodies. Their matching smiles and sweaters looked bright against the still-snowy landscape. The basket was filled with traditional colored eggs, and the older brother held a wrapped chocolate bunny.
Baby animals born in springtime have always been child-friendly motifs. A young boy and girl look at the baby chicks and rabbits through a storefront window dressed in holiday decorations.
Here, a pair of little girls in Easter bonnets eagerly contemplate their baskets of Easter eggs. This was also the decade when Just Born created Peeps, the brightly colored marshmallow chicks. Today, the company hatches 700 million Peeps each year.
Decoupaging eggs is a technique that often requires an adult's steady hand. These Easter eggs—decorated with smiling children and classic cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse—were carefully made by Episcopal church women to sell in stores and raise money for the church.
Children also like to paint Easter eggs. The 1960s were the decade when Mod Podge was invented by Jan Wetstone, which changed the way people decorated their Easter treats.
Women showed off their Easter bonnets and hats in a fashion show in New York City's Harlem. The fashion show was sponsored by large textile and fashion stores. Easter bonnets gained popularity in the United States in the latter 1870s, becoming part of a fashion statement for renewal in Easter parades.
What's any holiday without dessert? Here, a special layer cake was baked for Easter and decorated with candy eggs and a small pom-pom chick. In the '50s, other popular cakes were the pineapple upside down cake and baked alaska.
Going into the '70s, baskets were still aplenty. This was also the height of popularity when people tuned in to watch The Brady Bunch. Pictured here, from top: Robert Reed (Mike), Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland (Bobby) and Susan Olsen (Cindy) in an Easter promo.
Stick-on decals were popular holiday decorations, as these children show. Here, they were dressing a window for Easter at the Richard J. Murphy School in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester.
Hannah Neale (right) with her giant Easter egg prize for winning the Children's Easter Bonnet Parade held at the Repulse Bay Hotel. Hannah's mother, Mrs. Elaine Neale (left), joined in the fun.
What is more exciting than a giant Easter egg? Three-year-old Janette Lee showed off the giant 25-pound and 30-inches-high egg created by Rowntree and Mackintosh. The chocolate eggs were popular in the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
Diana, Princess of Wales, walked with her son Prince William and nephew Peter Phillips as they headed to Easter Sunday service. The gorgeous baby robin's egg blue coats that she and Prince William wore was designed by Catherine Walker. Diana's matching hat was the perfect complement.
Mary Lou Billy uses a kista (a writing stylus that holds beeswax) for intricate egg decorations. Here, the resident of Sherin Drive in Oakville was preparing for Ukrainian Easter. The egg—now a symbol of rebirth—was forbidden food during Lent in olden times.
Kelly Newbold and her 18-month-old daughter Savannah participated in the annual White House Easter Egg roll on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, DC. That year, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the annual event.
Volunteers in egg costumes take part in the festivities of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn each year.
Volker Kraft stands next to an apple tree decorated with approximately 10,000 Easter eggs. Kraft and his family have been decorating the tree since 1965, initially with only a few hundred eggs but more annually ever since. In recent years the tree has become a tourist attraction that draws thousands of visitors in the weeks before Easter.
The annual Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival is still popular in New York City. This woman attended the event paired with his pup—both of them were decked out in their Easter finest. Their hats were adorned with flowers, feathers, and pastel-colored Easter eggs. The parade has its origins in post-Civil War America as a "fashion promenade" that paid homage to the after-church Sunday walk.