From egg rolls to hot cross buns, this list is full of festive ways to celebrate.
BY TAYSHA MURTAUGH APR 7, 2022
Ah, Easter Sunday. For hundreds of years, followers of the Christian faith have closed out Lent by attending church services and gathering with friends and family for spring-inspired celebrations. There are many classic Easter traditions you can incorporate into your holiday, and this year we’re honoring them with a nod to the past.
Along with this list of 32 Easter traditions both secular and religious, we’ve gathered nostalgic Easter photos from previous generations that exemplify each one. So this year, as we cook that delicious Easter brunch or dinner, create DIY Easter baskets, or embark on an epic egg hunt, it will be with a deeper connection to our shared traditions and the people who celebrated them before us.
From getting your feet washed on Holy Thursday to donning your best Easter bonnet to baking hot cross buns, there’s guaranteed to be a moment you remember in this sweet list. Some traditions, like visiting with the Easter bunny or attending a pastel-drenched parade, may already be a part of your holiday. Others, such as sending Easter lilies, decorating an Easter tree, or heading outside to fly a kite on Good Friday, may be new fodder for your celebration. But either way, these photos are sure to give you the warm and fuzzies. So grab a seat and prepare for a stroll down memory lane.
1 Send Easter Lilies
Symbolic of purity and hope, Easter lilies are steeped in meaning in cultures around the world. The flowers are believed to have sprouted where Christ’s blood and tears fell during crucifixion, as well as in the Garden of Gethsemane after his betrayal.
2 Dye Easter Eggs
There’s a reason we’re still dyeing Easter eggs today: Our predecessors passed down the fun activity at Easter time. Just look at this young woman busy at work painting holiday decorations in this old photograph (and peep the chick on her shoulder!). Put your own twist on this tradition with these cute Easter egg decorating ideas.
3 Hunt for Easter Eggs
Again, some things never change. Here, children in the United States scour their living room in the early 1900s.
4 Bake a Cake
This is the one non-negotiable Easter tradition. There should always be Easter cake. And if your grandma is anything like ours, her Easter dessert is usually carrot-flavored in honor of the bunny.
5 Serve the Classics
6 Eat Hollow Chocolate Bunnies
Ever wondered why this Easter candy must-have usually has an empty filling? According to one of the oldest chocolate bunny confectionaries, R.M. Palmer, there’s a method to the madness: dental health. “If you had a larger-size bunny and it was solid chocolate, it would be like a brick; you’d be breaking teeth,” Mark Schlott, executive vice president of operations, explained to Smithsonian.
7 Fly Kites
This Good Friday tradition initially gained traction in Bermuda, where it’s believed that a local schoolteacher used a kite to demonstrate Jesus’s ascension into heaven for his students. Since then, Bermudians have flocked to Horseshoe Bay Beach for the annual Good Friday Kite Festival.
8 Get Your Feet Washed
The origin of this Christian Holy Thursday practice goes back to the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus chose to wash his disciples’ feet during Passover, so members of the congregation were invited to have their priest do the same. Up until 2016, though, only men could receive the symbolic gesture.
9 Go to Church
After all, it is the reason for the season. Pictured are John F. and Jackie Kennedy at Easter mass with their kids, Caroline and John, in 1963. Others might recall Easter Vigils or Easter sunrise services. Speaking of, these early morning masses date back to 1773 and symbolize Mary visiting Jesus’ empty tomb at dawn following his resurrection.
10 Play Music
Chances are, your gram and gramps were part of the choir or band for church services or the local Easter parade.
11 Baptize Babies
Many Christian churches will hold a christening during services on Easter Sunday for an extra meaningful ritual. Bette Davis and William Grant Sherry baptized their daughter, Barbara Davis Sherry, on Easter 1948.
12 Wear Your Sunday Best
The whole family had to look sharp on Easter Sunday, especially if you went to church…
13 Give Chocolate Eggs
14 Wear an Easter Bonnet…
… with all the frills upon it! As the 1933 Irving Berlin song goes: “You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.”
Like the ones modeled here by lovely ladies at New York’s Easter parade on 5th Avenue in 1953.
16 Pin on an Easter Corsage
Women would wear dress corsages on Easter, typically given to them by their children or husbands. Here, Humphrey Bogart presents the floral accessory to Lauren Bacall (albeit not on Easter, in this instance!).
17 Gather ‘Round the Table…
Whether they hosted a casual brunch party or the traditional Easter dinner, our elders understood the importance of gathering around the table.
18…and the Piano
Instead of television, parents turned to this instrument for more interactive entertainment.
19 Watch a Classic
If you must watch something, make it a classic family film, like one of our favorite Easter movies, 1948’s Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
20 Make Hot Cross Buns
Adorned with crosses as a religious reminder, the traditional Easter treat has been made and enjoyed on Good Friday or Easter Sunday for decades.
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21Play Old Easter Games
Easter hunts aren’t the only games to play on Easter. Back in the day, parents swapped Easter eggs for marbles, as the young English boys are doing here, or played “Tap the Egg.” Also known as “egg-knocking” or “egg-tapping,” the traditional Easter game involves tapping your hard-boiled egg against other players’ in an attempt to break theirs but keep yours intact.
22 Host Your Own Egg Roll
The White House is known for its annual Easter Egg Roll competition, but variations on the practice of egg rolling have been done around the world.
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23Send Easter Cards
Greeting cards aren’t solely for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. People used to send sweet Easter messages and blessings by way of cards too.
24 Attend an Easter Parade
Plenty of towns still put on an annual Easter parade, and it’s tons of fun for attendees old and young.
25 Visit the Easter Bunny
…although ideally one that’s not quite so scary. Some theories link the origin of the Easter bunny to pagan roots, but our modern version only began to emerge in the 1600s. (Suffice it to say, the shopping mall visits came later.)
26 Open Easter Baskets
Some have memories of waking up with wonderment on Easter morning. That’s thanks to some great Easter basket ideas that a certain bunny filled with candy.
27 Tap into Your Roots
For example, the pysanka is the old Ukrainian tradition of adding ornate designs to eggs using beeswax. Meanwhile, those in Florence, Italy, light fireworks; children in Finland dress up and beg for chocolate eggs; and people in Poland have playful water fights, to name just a few Easter customs.
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28 Make an Easter Tree
Yes, Easter trees are a thing. The Swedish women shown here are decorating theirs with feathers in 1961.
29 Read the Easter Story
Easter candy and hunts are nice, but earlier generations remembered to reflect on the Easter story in the Bible, too.
30 Give Back
The long Easter weekend is a perfect time to show you care for your community. Take a cue from these Boy Scouts, who used the holiday as an opportunity to clear litter from the woods in 1981.
31 Visit Those Who Have Passed
Jesus is said to have risen on Easter Sunday, so it’s fitting that many make time to visit cemeteries on the special holiday.
32 Hold Your Loved Ones Close
Above all, the thing our grandparents probably did better than anybody else is appreciate each other and savor the moment.
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