By: Russell Bowers
Unlike it’s December counterpart, the seasonal traditions of Easter aren’t nearly as universal as Christmas. The Herald celebrates some of the customs these Newfoundlanders hold dear
Easter has long had associations that fall outside of the religious observance, many of which hearken back to traditions and customs from many different societies and beliefs.
German immigrants to North American brought their Eastertide traditions to North America in the 17th century, with the most prominent being an egg-laying hare known as the Osterhase.
Decorating eggs go back to the 1200s for many Christian groups, although the idea of painting eggs can be found in Africa and Mesopotamia centuries before.
The lily flower originates in Japan and became a part of Easter celebrations in Canada following the First World War.
As for the fancy bonnet, it was long considered a Christian headcovering for Easter. It sprang up as part of a tradition of wearing new clothes at Easter, to coincide with the renewal, both natural and spiritual that comes with the changing seasons and religious redemption.
Here are a few of the memories some prominent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians recall about Easter traditions in their respective families.
“My mother, Laverne Squires, kept the Jewish Passover, which was often around the same time. We’d always get a chocolate bunny each regardless.
She taught us the enjoyment of the chocolate, but reminded us that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real and that the secular holiday shouldn’t take the place of the true meaning, which is how Jesus rose from the tomb, of course. I wrote a song about it years later, about how Jesus rode in on a donkey while people lay out branches for him. “A Man On A Donkey” was on my first album.”
My Easter memories of youth are of my mom always arranging an amazing Easter Basket for me, filled with all sorts of goodies like jelly beans, chocolate, and marshmallow treats. It was almost like a mini-Christmas morning, with anticipation for what the Easter basket would look like this year.
Now that I have a child, the Easter basket tradition continues. We also do an egg hunt with her three cousins (my sister Lydia’s kids). It’s so much fun to see the excitement on my daughter Olivia’s face as she races around and tries to collect eggs, and her older cousins are always gracious to make sure they don’t find all the eggs first, leaving some for Livvy.
My mom and dad love watching their three grandsons and one granddaughter run around on Easter morning looking for eggs, then we usually all go to church, followed by a big Easter brunch together.
My memories of Easter in Newfoundland is that it still felt like winter outside, with snow on the ground. Let’s get real – we are all ready for summer in Newfoundland by May 24!
With Covid restrictions lifted, this Easter will probably feel extra special for many, as we are allowed to now gather together.
For me, this creates extra appreciation for the moment, for the little things, like going out to a restaurant or going to church. Being free and happy. And celebrating that Jesus is risen!”
“A tradition for my family that started probably in the early 2000’s was flipper pie on Good Friday. My mother makes a mean pie and she says it’s all in the “prep work.”
I remember one year when I was a kid (late 70’s/early 80’s), I woke up really early on Easter Sunday and went to see what the Easter Bunny had left for me. Normally, I’d get a bunny and some chocolate, and then the egg hunt began. But this Easter, there was nothing! So, I went to my parents’ bedroom and said, “The Easter Bunny didn’t come!”
My mom was still asleep so she groggily replied, “Oh… he hasn’t been here yet. Go back to bed.” I did, and a few hours later as daylight finally shone though, Peter Cottontail had arrived. Looking back, it must have been a chore for the Easter Bunny to hide eggs in a small saltbox house with six kids.
These days, it’s fun being around my nieces and nephews, and others close to me with children. It’s the excitement of discovery as we watch them frantically look for eggs and toying with them when you hint that you can see more. Then, of course, the inevitable sugar crash. Sometimes, Easter eggs can still be found days, even months, after. It’s like needles from a Christmas tree.”
“We were a Catholic family, so Easter was more about church than chocolate. However, we did have a few days off from school! I remember a lot of girls in my class would take family trips to Florida at Easter and I was always envious. They’d come back with shell rings and necklaces and tans, and it seemed like such an exotic thing to me.
There was one Easter though, when my mom gave my sister and I handmade dolls. Someone at her work was making them and she bought us one each, a Raggedy Ann and a Raggedy Andy. They’re beautifully done and we still have them!”
“I don’t remember having a basket when we were growing up in Stephenville, or an Easter egg hunt. It seemed like other people had baskets in hay and things like an Easter hunt.
But still, I remember our table being full of chocolate eggs at breakfast, and this one Easter, I remember my father was out on the grass in his bare feet, and he got stung by a bumblebee!”
“I actually have very, very strong emotional memories about Easter because my mother, Geraldine Stapleton, was a teacher and she always made sure that I had a new coat and new shoes for Easter.
It was always something that I thought was going to transform my life because I would usually order them from the Simpson-Sears catalogue. I always insisted on wearing them to mass on Easter Sunday, even though there was usually still snow around at that time. For some reason that was the tradition my mom created just for me.
But I also remember all these religious movies on TV portraying the crucifixion, and me with my little brothers would watch these horrible things being done to this poor man.
We’d watch in terror and not be able to sleep the whole weekend. So, Easter Sunday was always a big deal for getting a new coat and being terrified.”
“I grew up in Deer Lake and in Grade three, our teacher, Mrs. Luther, had us do a project making bonnets for Easter. I had no idea what an Easter bonnet was, but anyone who wanted could make one at home and bring it in for display.
I’d use any excuse to dress up and even had my own tickle trunk and so my mother and I set about making what was basically a fancy hat.
I very proudly went off to school with my “bonnet” and even though, not a lot of my classmates made them, we did get a picture of the whole class which I still have.
In our family, my grandfather was an expert at blowing eggs. He would put a small hole in both ends of an egg with a needle and then blow into one hole until all of the contents come out of the other end.
It hurt my face, so grandfather would do them all for me so I could just focus on my expert six-year-old decorating skills.”