5 Easter Traditions No Longer Practiced

The Sun upon an Easter Day, The Atchinson Daily Globe (Kansas), March 31, 1888. Watching the sun dance is one of many abandoned Easter traditions.

The Sun upon an Easter Day, The Atchinson Daily Globe (Kansas), March 31, 1888

Will you be going to church for Easter? Decorating Easter eggs? Eating hot cross buns? These are old Easter traditions that are still common today. But how about watching the sun dance? Heaving someone into the air? Rolling down a hill? Here are five Easter traditions that have generally been abandoned.

1. Watching the sun dance

The Bath Chronicle reported in 1832:

On the Easter-morn it was formerly a custom for the people to rise early and walk into the fields to see the sun dance, a superstition then firmly believed in, and which, by looking at it steadfastly for a time, it might be fancied to do. (1)

According to a late 19th century Milwaukee paper, this Easter tradition also existed in the United States.

Who can forget the story learned at mother’s knee of the dance of the sun on Easter morn? And how many can remember the excursion to a neighboring hill to verify the tale? Somehow the conditions were never just right – you were just a little late, the sun rose in a mist, or you were negligent at the precise moment when all attention should have been given – and so far as your experience goes the question of the dancing sun is still an unsolved problem. You will think of it this Easter, and the memories it revives will do you good. (2)

In England, the custom survived into the 20th century. London’s Daily Mail reported in 1919:

There are even now peasantry in Derbyshire and Yorkshire who go to watch the sun dance on certain hills there, where the tradition still holds strong. (3)

2. Lifting or heaving

The custom called ‘Lifting,’ and in some counties ‘Heaving,’ was one of the sports formerly in use at Easter, and is not yet laid aside in some of our distant provinces. At Warrington, Bolton and Manchester, on Easter-Monday the women, forming parties of six or eight each, still continue to surround such of the opposite sex as they meet, and either with or without their consent, lift them thrice above their heads into the air, with loud shouts at each elevation. On Easter-Tuesday the men in similar parties do the same to the women. By both parties it is converted into a pretence for fining or extorting a small sum of money. (4)

This Easter tradition, which had died out by the early 20th century, has been revived by the Blackheath Morris in Greenwich, London.

3. Taking off shoes and buckles

If lifting sounds too energetic, you can try this Easter tradition instead.

In Yorkshire, on Easter Sunday, it is said to be a custom for the young men in the villages…to take off the young girls’ buckles, and on Easter Monday the young men’s shoes and buckles are taken off by the young women. On the Wednesday they are redeemed by little pecuniary forfeits, out of which an entertainment, called a tansy cake, is made, and the jollity concluded with dancing. At Rippon, some years ago, where this custom prevailed, it is reported no traveller could pass the town without being stopped, and if a horseman, having his spurs taken away, unless redeemed by a little money, which was the only means to get them returned. (5)

4. Rolling down the hill

Speaking of lower extremities, the tradition of rolling down Greenwich hill on Easter Monday prevailed in the 18th century. The Times in 1790 suggested why this was popular.

The diversion of the day has not varied for many years – the young people rolling down the hill, and the girls consequently showing their legs, which made the company laugh. (6)

5. Egg dancing

The Egg Dance by Pieter Aertson, 1552

The Egg Dance by Pieter Aertson, 1552

There were many variants of the egg dance, in which the goal was to dance among eggs while damaging as few as possible. You can still sometimes see Morris dancers doing an egg dance blindfolded. If you would like to attempt an Easter egg dance, here are instructions from the late 19th century.

The egg dance is an old Easter game. To prepare for this particular frolic, take 13 eggs, blow the contents from the shells, color eight shells red, gilt four and leave one white. Hard-boiled eggs can, of course, be used, if one first takes the precaution to cover the carpet with linen crash.

Now, for the dance, place the 13 eggs on the floor, in two circles, one within the other. The outer circle, formed of the red eggs, placed at equal distance apart, should measure about eight feet in diameter, the inner circle, formed of the gilded eggs, should be four feet in diameter, and the white egg must be placed in the center of the inner circle.

The eggs having been arranged, the company is divided into couples and each in turn try the dance.

The first couple take position within the outer circle, that is, between the red eggs and the gilded ones, and to waltz music they dance around the circle three times, keeping within the space between the two circles. Entering the inner circle, they waltz three times around the central egg, and all this must be done without breaking or greatly disturbing any of the shells.

When an egg is broken or knocked more than 12 inches from its position, the dancers give place to the next couple. The broken eggs are not replaced, but the displaced ones are set in order. When each couple has had a turn and none has accomplished the feat of dancing without breaking any eggs, all change partners and the trial begins again.

The first couple who go through the dance without breaking or disturbing the eggs win a first prize, possibly a dainty bon-bon box, shaped like an egg; the second successful couple receiving second prizes, and the third are rewarded with coloured eggs. (7)

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Celebrating July 4th in early 19th century New Orleans

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The flavour of a 19th century Christmas

Celebrating with Light: Illuminations and Transparencies

  1. The Bath Chronicle (Bath, England), April 26, 1832, p. 4.
  2. Yenowine’s Illustrated News (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), April 1, 1893, p. 6.
  3. Daily Mail (London, England), April 17, 1919, p. 4.
  4. The Bath Chronicle, April 26, 1832, p. 4.
  5. The Sunday Times (London, England), March 30, 1823, p. 1.
  6. The Times (London, England), April 6, 1790, p. 3.
  7. Eleanor Lexington, “Easter Frolics,” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), April 5, 1896, p. 12.

6 commments on “5 Easter Traditions No Longer Practiced”

  • Hels says:

    I have seen The Egg Dance by Pieter Aertson and thought it was a stunning Dutch painting, but nobody explained what an egg dance was. Thank you and happy holiday!

  • Hunter S. Jones says:

    Fabulous! The Southern states in the U.S. still have Sunrise Services on Easter morning. I wonder if that tradition is derived from the Sun Dancing?

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Hunter. Good question! We have Easter sunrise services in Canada, too. I don’t know if they were ever related to watching the sun dance. Sounds like a nice combination.

  • dstillermann says:

    There is not a traditional Easter dessert. People usually dig into the chocolate treats, but it’s customary to also serve the first strawberries of the season or make a nest shaped cake. What is important is that it be appetizing and colorful!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Appetizing and colourful sounds good! I love seeing the range of delicious treats that appear in bakeries and other shops around Easter.

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The diversion of the day has not varied for many years – the young people rolling down the hill, and the girls consequently showing their legs, which made the company laugh.

The Times