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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Changing for Easter

Superstitious people for centuries associated Easter with the wearing of new clothes. In times when most people were much poorer than today, they may have had only one suit of clothes to wear at all times. Easter might have been the occasion to scrape together the means to have something new to wear, or at least to refurbish the old.

Perhaps the roots of this practice are further back in time than the first Easter, as the undoubted renewal of spring in the earth gave the idea of renewal to people observing the newly green fields, the flowers and young leaf buds.

When I was young my mother dressed my sister and me in new outfits for Easter, and she herself would usually have a new dress and hat. Here are a few pictures of our tradition’s progress—also showing the status of my family.

My mother probably made the dress she is wearing, but it looks as if the dresses my sister and I have are store bought. The large rabbit represented her attempt to make my sister happier. My sister was always upset that she was the youngest and smallest in the family. Indeed, she was the smallest kid on the block. She really, really hated being called “little,” and since she was obviously both little and cute, her name was too often prefaced by those two adjectives. Oh, how she hated that!

This next picture was not taken at Easter, but it is the only one we have of us wearing that year’s Easter dresses. My sister’s was a very special dress made by one of my older cousins as an entry in the county fair, where it won first prize. It went on to the state fair and won a prize there too. The darker pink underdress was overlaid with a tulip-shaped pale pink organdy overskirt that was echoed in the large collar. It had a huge pink sash in the back that tied in a large bow. My dress was probably from one of the many used clothing stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were many that handled very fine clothing from the sort of people who would buy something and wear it only once before giving it to the shops. My mother and her best friend were experts in where every one of those shops was located within a fifty mile radius. I’m not sure why our dolls are wearing nothing but underpants and jackets. Possibly we did not have the money to clothe them better that year. And possibly we were not told that those underpants were underpants—we probably thought they were fashionably short shorts, such as we saw women wearing at the beach every weekend.

The next year was the first that we had brand-new dresses, and the only time we wore matching dresses. We were both very proud of our sailor dresses. The rabbit was there, as he was every Easter, now taking turns each year as to which Easter basket was to hold him for the all-important Easter Basket Hunt. My family’s tradition was to fill up the baskets with candy, hard-boiled eggs in shells dyed bright colors, and a toy, and our parents would hide them for us to find on Easter morning right after church. They hid the extra eggs too. I don’t think I ever found an egg. Maybe once. My older brothers always got them all.

The next year sees all of us kids having a picture together with our mother. My dress was pink with purple rick-rack rows around the skirt. There was something wrong with the bodice, so I had to wear a sweater over it. I wasn’t happy with this Easter dress, but I wore it a lot after that anyway, always with the sweater. You can’t see it clearly, but my mother still had a hat on this year. This might have been the year we changed churches, from the one where there were a number of scandals involving the priest in addition to the abolition of the Sunday School (we watched old Laurel and Hardy movies while our parents were in their meeting), to my mother’s childhood Christian denomination where there was a Sunday School for the children and no scandal. The hymns were pretty much the same, so I didn’t mind a bit. I liked having Sunday School lessons too.

The upheaval prompted my eldest brother to go searching for a church that he could rely upon, ending in his conversion to the Mormons. It’s true that in the years to come my mother’s church dissatisfied us all for its leaders’ insistence that nobody could “know” anything definite about God or Jesus.

The year after that saw my mother’s last Easter hat. Women were not wearing hats in those days, not so much as they used to do. My mother had had a nice collection of hats, some very pretty, most quite small. She liked the kind with the veils attached to them, the sort that fit very close to the head. I used to sneak into her closet and try on her hats when she was gone shopping or somewhere. I used to dream of growing up and inheriting her hats.

This was my least favorite Easter dress. I never liked the color orange in any shade, until sometime in high school when somebody who was supposed to know colors declared that “apricot” was my best color. However, what I’m looking smug about is that I have on new shoes. Those were velvet shoes, and I was so proud of them I could barely contain myself. My sister did not like “pretty” shoes. She was a tomboy through and through and hated all the pretty and cute things that made her look more feminine. She wanted to be rough and tough. She wished she were a boy every day in those days.

A few short years later I was a sullen, uncooperative preteen, wearing the first Easter dress that I had made for myself. My parents fought with me over the length of the hem, and they won that year. It simply shouts the psychedelic era, doesn’t it? But I did not want to pose in it, obviously. I never did pose for Easter pictures again until I was grown, even though I kept on making or buying a new dress around Easter time. But no longer every year.

I have a new dress this year to wear to church. It has become less and less important as the day’s significance to my interior feelings has grown in importance.

It is the time of renewal, the time to remember that one day a resurrection of all things will take place, a restoration to that which was in its perfect form. No longer needing the symbolism of new clothes, I myself will become reborn, perfect, through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Happy Easter!

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