Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Traditions and Family Memories

Easter Lily with Cross    easter lily with cros

Growing up in America, a descendant of Irish and Italian Catholics, and Scottish, German, English and French Protestants, I was taught that Easter was one of the holiest days of the year. Easter celebrated Jesus rising from the dead to save us from our sins. We were thus given, by God’s Grace,  eternal life with God.

It is actually pretty amazing to me that my Catholic and Protestant families joined their celebrations and traditions and were kind, loving, and respectful enough to each other that we children of 1950’s America didn’t realize the differences! That certainly hadn’t happened in the home/ancestral countries of Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Italy!

My mother left her Irish Catholic Church upon marrying my Methodist father at his promise to attend church faithfully and to raise his children there. (He was more strongly willed than she was--the Catholic Church taught her to follow.) So we were raised in the Methodist traditions with a touch of Catholicism thrown in.

Starting with Lent, Ash Wednesday, we visited my Mother’s family’s church,  St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia and got the sign of the cross made on our foreheads.

According to an article featured in “Catholic Online” at

“Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.
Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday, and is chiefly observed by Catholics, although many other Christians observe it too.
Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person's forehead, he speaks the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." ‘

We always “gave something up” for Lent--something we loved, like chocolate for instance. We also got little boxes from our Methodist Church into which we put pennies or more everyday, returning them to Church on Easter to help feed the hungry.

The week before Easter, called Holy Week by Catholics and Protestants, was treated that way by my parents and our Church. Everyday was something special, but on “Maundy Thursday” night we always attended the somber, special communion at church where we came forward and sat around a table of twelve in the chancel of the sanctuary. An author by the name of James Cooper explains this tradition in his online article which can be found at:

“Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week. It represents the day that the Jewish Passover was celebrated in the Bible Story of Easter.
On that day, Jesus had his last meal with his friends and followers before he was killed. This meal is now know as 'The Last Supper'. At the meal, Jesus and his friends would have followed the Jewish Passover custom of eating roast lamb and bread and drinking red wine. However, Jesus gave the bread and wine a special meaning. When they got to the part of meal when the Bread was eaten and the wine drunk, Jesus said that these would be a symbol of his body and blood to his followers to help them remember that through his death, our sins are forgiven.
Maundy comes from Latin and is the word for 'Command', this is because Jesus commanded his followers to think of him when they ate bread and drank wine. This is very important to Christians and is now remembered in the Christian service known as Communion, Mass or Eucharist.”
As a child growing up, I loved the Maundy Thursday Service and always found it extremely meaningful. Attending with us were extended members of our family like my Paternal Grandmother, and Aunts, Uncles and cousins from my mother and my father’s side. Crosses --pictures

On “Good Friday” the Friday of Holy Week, we mourned the death of Jesus upon the cross. I truly could not understand this as a child--how could they have put to death such a loving man! It bothered me as a child, made me think, and I dare say, increased my conscience and beliefs in right and wrong!

Arlington Church’s Easter Play  John Fullop portrays Jesus as he rises from the tomb on Easter morning during Harvest Baptist's, story by David Crumpler

Finally came Easter Sunday! It was truly an enjoyable celebration! In the Methodist Church I always looked forward to singing “Christ the Lord Has Risen Again- Hallelujah!” You could tell by the joy in the music and the smiles on people’s faces, just how different this day was from say Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Before church however, we always went to an Easter Sunday sunrise service. Bundled against the Spring cold morning, we usually attended a beautiful Easter pageant in Richmond, Virginia, USA, where we watched the Easter story unfold. We saw the capturing of Jesus, judgement by Pontius Pilate, his death upon the cross and the dawning on Easter where an angel rolled away the stone from Jesus’s tomb, and found Jesus gone, informing Mary Magdalene and all of us that Jesus had risen from the dead! “ (from the Holy Bible, Matthew, Chaps 26-28.)

The pageant was so beautiful, dramatic and inspiring to the viewers, who were also being bathed in the sunrise of a new day, we could not help but have our faith strengthened.

Back at home after Church, we had Easter Baskets from the Easter Bunny like my own grandchildren pictured below do as well today. This was followed by a large Easter dinner--a gathering of relatives and stories of the generations before us.

Author's Personal Library--grandchildren

When I realize that I have personally known five generations spanning over 100 years of family who celebrated these Easter traditions with me, it moves me greatly. (With my grandmother Hogue-Youngblood born in 1881, to my youngest grandchild born in 2014!) Having been involved in genealogical research for several years now, I more deeply understand the centuries of believers from whom I descend-- from many different countries-- and how their Easter culture and traditions coalesced into mine. It is simply awesome. Happy Easter all!

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