I loved Easter when I was a little girl. Having little to do with the theological implications of the Resurrection, Easters were my time to get special outfits–fluffy dresses, patent Mary Jane’s, ruffled socks and hats. Especially hats! I was a pint-sized fashionista; and Easter was my Oscar walk down the red carpet.
While the organdy and lace never changed from one year to the next, spring weather in West Texas can go from snow to mid-80’s in less than 24 hours. And Easter can occur any time between March 22 and April 25. So the possibility of nailing what you should wear for comfort ahead of time was nil. Yet, like James Michener’s New England missionaries in Hawaii, who put on woolens on October 1st despite the tropical climate, on Easter morning we wore our Easter duds. I can remember putting my winter coat over my new springy clothes before going to church and afterwards, standing outside, freezing as our parents took obligatory pictures of my cousins and me in our all-to-thin pinafores.
My best friend, Zelda, who grew up on Louisville, tells a similar story:
For Jews, it was new clothes for the High Holy Days. This created a bit of a quandary because Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can fall anywhere between the beginning of September and the middle of October. And the temperatures can range from sweltering to chilly. Nevertheless, the new clothes in the stores were always fall clothes, warm and snugly. Mom tried to have a Plan A and a Plan B for us, depending on the weather. We did our best with them. And, Yom Kippur is not for the faint of heart, as the services run from morning through till sunset, as does the fast that began the night before.
The notion of wearing new clothes for the holiest of religious holidays is ancient, and worldwide. It has to do with a deep-seated need to mark the end of one seasonal cycle and the beginning of the next. So, when Jews dress for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, they partake in a ritual to mark the end of summer that has its roots in the mists of time. The same is true of Christians donning new clothes for Easter. Their finery reflects the primal urge to mark the onset of spring, when life bursts forth from the depths of winter. The ancients also celebrated the winter and summer solstices.
What separates us today from the earliest peoples is that what we buy to wear for our holy days has to do with fashion. We want the newest, based on trends for the coming season. Ancient religious ornamentation was based on symbols whose origins had been long lost. Color for color, item by item, there was no variation. And each design had high religious significance.
These days, I rarely outfit myself head-to-toe with new clothes for Easter. For this year I bought a jacket and shoes that I’ll pair with things already in my closet. But even though I won’t be sporting all new stuff, a piece of me will feel like that little girl in her spring finery all those years ago.