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Easter finery was scrutinized a century ago

Published April 25. 2011 08:35AM

With no electronic media like television, the Internet, or radio, Tamaqua merchants used their storefronts and the newspaper to attract pre-Easter business a century ago.

"Tamaqua merchants this year are exerting their best efforts to make attractive displays and some of the windows are real models of art," one Tamaqua Courier reporter observed in early April of 1911. "The interiors are also very attractive and it behooves the good housewife of Tamaqua to visit the downtown stores and see for herself just how up-to-date Tamaqua merchants can really be."

Churches in the town were also prepared for their Sunday morning service.

"The churches are being decorated with palms, blooming plants and cut flowers and nothing is being left undone that will prevent an inspiring scene to the worshippers," a writer stated. "Coming as it does with the awakening of spring after mother earth's long sleep in the death-like grip of winter, it readily finds a responsive sentiment in the hearts of men, women and children of the Christian faith."

A week before Easter the Courier carried an opinion about the origin of the holiday, explaining how some of the customs, such as the Easter egg hunt, came about. In the Middle Ages, the writer said that the church, besides being the place for worship, was used to feed the poor. He said it also had social gatherings such as dances.

There was a wholesome and open affection, as people "saluted each other with a kiss."

The Easter egg, he said, was a "symbol of new life about to break forth."

He said it dated back to the time of Jesus, as the Jews used eggs at the feast of the Passover. He explained that the Persians would give each other colored eggs at the New Year, and in Scotland, the young people would go hunting for wild fowls' eggs for Easter morning breakfast. Those who found them were supposedly destined to have good luck.

The writer said other parts of the holiday, including the Easter parade, where people could display their trophies of dress, evolved from pagan customs. Although he did not agree with displaying the "trophies" of dress, he did not find any of the "old-time buffooneries."

"The fact that one likes to have new glad clothes to wear - the satisfaction of donning garments that are artistic in color and design, and that harmonize with one's figure, complexion and personality - does not prove that one has no heart for the deeper harmonies of the universe," he said. "Easter, to all who can see the real things of life, is the daybreak that scatters the shadows of fear and despair and absorption in the mere things of the flesh."

A week later, after Easter had passed, a Courier writer took one last shot at the excesses he had witnessed in an editorial titled "Society on Parade."

"Judging by the annual display of fine feathers made in the Easter parade, society did not devote itself wholly, during Lent, to penitential works," he said. "In fact, were it not for the slight let-up in the social pace during this season of presumptive spiritual retirement, it is hard to see how the smart set would be able to assemble the clothes for the summer campaign."

While a chilly wind kept temperatures quite cold on Easter Sunday morning, the writer joked that "the pride of new swagger finery kept the women quite as warm as garments of fur could have done."

The women weren't the only ones called out by the writer. He also noted that the men were well equipped to handle the weather.

"Had it been any other day, the men would have donned overcoats," he stated. "But the consciousness of impeccable cutaway frock coats armed them against the teeth of the gale."

He also took a shot at the larger city newspapers for playing up the commercialism of Easter by printing the lists of gowns worn by the women. By publishing the clothing list, he said, the larger metro papers no longer had a right to jeer at the rural newspapers for running such trivial stories such as someone painting his barn in "Bushwackersville."

The Tamaqua writer also pointed out that an estimated $1 million worth of flowers were used in Easter decorations in New York City alone. But that wasn't the only holiday noted for its excesses.

"We celebrate the nation's birthday (July 4th) by making bad noises and removing superfluous fingers and toes from our children," he stated, "and we observe Thanksgiving Day by piggish excesses at the table."

Given these examples, he said the cost of Easter flowers seems "relatively sane." He admitted that flowers held therapeutic value and promoted an inner beauty.

"These blooms are an appeal to the side of human nature that loves pure beauty," he said. "The dull monotone of life's routine is brightened by their frank winsomeness. Frequently, the pretty custom prevails - after the songs have died away and the organ has ceased to throb - of sending the flowers to cheer the homes of the shut-ins.

"Many aspects of Easter may seem extraneous, unrelated to its true meaning, but the bigger the husk, the grander must be the kernel of truth within."

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