Easter in the 50’s: Candy, New Clothes, Church and Grandma’s House

Growing up in the 50’s, Easter was my third favorite holiday after Christmas and Halloween. I especially liked the fact that it came around in springtime, which meant that Cincinnati’s long, cold winter months were really over.

I also liked that everyone in the family got new clothes so that we could dress up for Easter Sunday church services before visiting my two grandmas’ houses.

But the most exciting thing was having an Easter basket full of chocolate bunnies, coconut cream eggs, dyed Easter eggs and jelly beans show up on the dining room table on Easter morning. Baskets were left by the Easter Bunny, we were told, although we weren’t quite sure who that was or why he brought us goodies. And, do rabbits lay eggs, we wondered? We weren’t stupid, though, and happily went along with the bunny stories.

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The days leading up to Easter Sunday were filled with anticipation for me, my sister Chris and my little brother Tom. First, there was Lent which began on Ash Wednesday and lasted until Holy Saturday. As good Catholic children, we had to give something up for those 40 days in order to repent for our sins. Since the three of us were all under 10 years old, we didn’t have much to repent for or much to give up, either.

Candy or ice cream or cookies were the obvious choices. I usually chose candy and then salivated for 40 days every time I saw a friend eating a candy bar. Such torture! But as far as I can remember, I stuck it out and didn’t eat candy until the basket showed up on Easter Sunday morning.

I remember the strong smell of vinegar a couple of days before Easter when we would open up our egg decorating kit, drop purple, red, green, blue, orange and yellow tablets into coffee cups of vinegar and then dip our eggs into the cups with a spoon because the metal dipper that came with the kit never worked.  My mother would try to minimize fighting by having us take turns with the colors.

Sometimes we would draw on the eggs with a “magic” wax crayon before we dipped them. I’m sure that was when mom realized that that none of us had any artistic promise.

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Or, we would wait until the eggs were dry and then select a design sticker from the kit and hold it in place with a towel. That was supposed to imprint the image on the egg. The trick was holding it steady enough and long enough that it wouldn’t blur.  When you are under 10, you don’t have much patience so that didn’t work very well either.

I remember two popular songs about Easter in the 50’s. They were all over the airwaves (yes, we listened to radio in our homes back then).  One was Easter Parade, written in the early 30’s, but made especially popular when Judy Garland and Fred Astaire performed it in the 1948 Easter Parade movie,

The other was Here Comes Peter Cottontail, recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. We knew every word.

About my new clothes: I don’t remember going to a store to buy a new dress for Easter until I was in my teens, so I think my mom went to the store on her own or had our dresses made by a neighbor. I don’t remember being picky, but when I look at this photo, I think I should have been.  Check out the puffy sleeves and the weird “Easter bonnet”.

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Cathy, Easter, circa 1958

Here’s another photo of me and my sister. I’m on the right. No, we are NOT twins. She is actually a year older. But obviously, my mom found it easier to buy us the same clothes. And, unfortunately, this wasn’t the only year she dressed us alike.

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Christine and Cathy, Easter, circa 1956

Did you notice the gloves? They were a big thing in the 50’s.  And the cute little bobby socks were, too. I have no idea where that center part in my hair came from, but I think in this case an Easter bonnet would have been more attractive.

At church, everyone was in celebration mode. Not only had Jesus risen from the dead, but weren’t we all looking great?  Shades of pink, yellow, blue and green were everywhere. New dresses, hats, shoes, and purses were overtly checked out, sometimes with envy and sometimes with snickers.

After church, our family would drive to one of my grandma and grandpa’s houses, where we were met with oohing and aahing, posed for Kodak pictures, and ate lots of food and candy. Next, we’d drive to my other grandma and grandpa’s house where there was more oohing and aahing, more snapshots, more food and more candy.

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Mom and us kids, Dad always took the pictures

And then, Easter was over. In a few days, all of the candy was gone and the eggs were too old to eat.

After Easter, there were no more imminent kid-friendly holidays.

The only thing we could do was to look forward to summer vacation, think about what we would wear on Halloween, and glance over our shoulders to see if Santa was watching.

Cathy Green