Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring: Easter Sunday, according to western Christian tradition. The Orthodox Churches, Russian included, will celebrate Pascha next Sunday.
Most Easters I remember as a kid occurred in April, although a March Easter is possible as those who remember 1964 will recall. As I've mentioned often, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so Easter was often nice and warm, with daffodils and hyacinths blooming and green grass to hide the Easter eggs. We've hidden Easter eggs in the snow nearly every year since we came to Alaska.
When I was in school, spring break would be the Thursday and Friday before Easter. I don't remember when it changed to a week, or to being associated with the mid-term break. Our school was on a six-week schedule (SIX report cards a year ... yikes!) so the breaks were less often directly related to a natural time in the school year to take a vacation. Early April was just a good spot to shake off winter and get ready for spring and we called it Easter Vacation. Those two days were the time we colored eggs and got ready for Sunday.
Mom raised chickens so we had lots of eggs. She boiled at least a couple of dozen and we'd dip them into the various dyes, trying to be artistic and individual with the results. When the eggs started going into all the cups, coming out a dirty brownish green color that looked like they had been dropped in the barnyard, that signaled the end of the session. One year Dad showed us how to empty an egg and dye the fragile shell but we only managed to do a couple before they started breaking so we went back to boiling.
I usually got something new for Easter. Often a new dress, probably hand made by my grandmother, and black patent leather shoes that we rubbed with Vaseline to keep the shine and to keep them from cracking. Easter was a sort of milestone in the dress year and time for a few new things as we had outgrown the fall school clothes by then. Spring was a good time to take inventory and see if we could make it to the end of the year without an entirely new wardrobe. We let out hems, patched pockets and set buttons over, and most everyone got by with only one new thing to celebrate Easter.
And to wear to church, our version of the Easter Parade which is not quite as vainglorious as it sounds, because everyone always dressed up to go to church, something we don't see a lot these days. The ladies all wore hats. Every occasion was appropriate for a hat. Church, especially, but weddings, funerals, club meetings and any time they needed to dress up. The hat might be a simple pill box, or cloche, or an extravagant circle of felt or straw and feathers or flowers orbiting out from the head. Many women wore veils. And the hats could be any color. Although black was de rigueur, any color that fit the wardrobe was acceptable. Pictures we see now of the British Royal women in their hats projected to every woman you know would be church on any given Sunday. One of our most cherished family pictures is of Grandma and her sisters dressed up for some occasion wearing tremendous hats. They are all in their early- to mid-40s and obviously enjoying themselves. Someone had posed them together to get the picture and they are all laughing at the cameraman. My sisters and I often compare ourselves to that group of merry ancestors sans hats.
After church was dinner, of course. We lived in the country, and had to go to town for church so dinner was usually at an aunt's house. The Easter feast was different from the winter holidays. The table was no less lavish, and the relatives just as prevalent but the food was different. The centerpiece might be ham but the sides were more often jellos and green salads, maybe fresh asparagus with dessert leaning toward ice cream or meringue pies. Maybe both!
We kids would most usually be able to go outdoors and we'd search eggs all afternoon, hidden by the uncle who didn't attend church (we all have at least one). He hid them well and for sure one or more would remain hidden until the lawn mower found it sometime in the summer. The cousin with the most eggs might earn an extra chocolate bunny or even a dime!
Easter is the high point of the Christian spiritual year: The celebration of resurrection is the cornerstone of the faith. But every year about this time we all hark back to our pagan origins and celebrate, just a little, the coming of spring, and the joyful realization that the days are getting longer, the snow is melting and someone has spotted the first out-of-state license plate ... all's right with the world!
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.