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For some of us, Easter is one of the most important holidays of the entire year. So it’s no wonder that we’ll want to dress up in a new outfit, just as many at Christmas do. But in the southern part of the United States, this particular tradition has a lot of meaning behind it. In fact, its origins can be traced back to hundreds of years ago.

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After the long winter months, spring can be seen as a welcome relief. Alongside the better weather, people also get to spend a bit of time with their families over Easter, which includes the traditional Sunday service. And as we’ve already touched upon, those in the south take that very seriously.

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If you hail from a southern state, you might remember being dressed up in colorful dresses, ranging in style. From so-called “puffy” outfits to more flexible fare, these items of clothing would help set the scene for the spring holiday. As for the boys, they’d be kitted out in a plain white shirt and trousers ahead of the service.

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Unsurprisingly, these traditions were ingrained in a lot of people while they grew up, meaning some still follow them today as adults. But why do southern residents feel the irrepressible need to dress their best for Easter? Like we suggested earlier, the idea first came to light many centuries ago.

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However, before we take a closer look at that, let’s discuss Easter itself. Unlike Christmas, this celebration doesn’t have a fixed date in the calendar, so it changes every year. In any case, the festivities begin on Good Friday, which is recognized as a public holiday in many countries across the globe.

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From there, Easter Sunday comes next, ahead of Easter Monday the following day. In countries such as the United Kingdom, these dates form part of a long weekend, yet that’s not the case in America. In fact, the vast majority of states carry on as per normal over those days, barring the Sunday.

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For you see, only 12 states treat Good Friday as a holiday, while Easter Monday isn’t celebrated at all in America. Yet regardless of that, Easter Sunday is still a very special date in certain parts of the country, especially the south. Indeed, residents there try to adhere to several customs over that period.

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To explain more, a writer named Michelle Darrisaw spoke about a few of the traditions in an article for Southern Living magazine. As it turns out, dressing up for Easter isn’t the only thing that southerners do to mark the occasion. According to Darrisaw, Easter eggs play a big role in the celebrations, just as they do in mainland Europe.

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As Darrisaw went on to say, “After church, there’s usually the highly-anticipated Easter egg hunt before the big family dinner. There are two rules we typically abide by when it comes to the egg portion of the celebration. First, according to religious lore, always dye the eggs on Good Friday. Second, hide only the candy-filled plastic eggs on Easter Sunday, preferably at grandma’s house.”

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Keeping that in mind, you might be wondering what the connection is between Easter and eggs. For the longest time, the latter has been looked upon as a “symbol” of sorts that ties into the creation of new life. But as it relates to the spring holiday, they’re seen a little differently.

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In the eyes of Christians, an Easter egg personifies Jesus Christ’s empty tomb after he was resurrected from the dead. Furthermore, the actual practice of painting and decorating an egg first started back in the 1200s. During that time, you see, it’s believed that the food item was off-limits for those who followed Lent.

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Otherwise known as Lenten season, this is a six-week period where people are encouraged to give up certain luxuries or indulgences prior to Easter. So for those who would cut back on food in the past, eggs would be avoided. On that note, the fasters would subsequently paint the shells to symbolize Lent’s conclusion, knowing they could finally consume them again.

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Meanwhile, Darrisaw revealed another southern tradition for Easter in her Southern Living article. Now, during the festive season you’ll see plenty of Christmas trees in homes as people prepare for the big day. Surprisingly, though, you might catch sight of some other spruced up saplings down south when spring rolls in.

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“Decorative trees aren’t just reserved for Christmas in the south,” Darrisaw explained to Southern Living. “As we often bring tradition indoors with an Easter tree centerpiece. Made with edible or adorned eggs hanging from the branches, these trees bring a festive focal point to our homes.”

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At first glance, Easter trees might seem a little strange, but the practice has been going on for hundreds of years. Tying back into what we discussed about Easter eggs, it’s thought that the food item’s placement in the tree symbolizes nature’s revival in the spring. And that’s not all.

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While the creation of the Easter tree remains a bit of a mystery, Germany is responsible for its rise in popularity. To give you an idea of how large they can get over there, here’s an eye-opening example. Incredibly, one such tree housed close to 80,000 Easter eggs in the city of Rostock – a Guinness World Record.

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In the following years, America’s southern states adopted the idea as well, ahead of it becoming a mainstay at Easter. Away from that, Darrisaw touched upon the holiday’s culinary traditions. And just like Christmas dinner, residents in the south stick to a very specific menu to mark the springtime festivities.

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“Holidays give us the perfect excuse for eating, entertaining, and feeding a crowd,” Darrisaw wrote in Southern Living. “The three things we love most here in the south (besides porch sitting). While hot cross buns are typically served on Good Friday, we reserve the good stuff for the feast on Sunday.”

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And Darrisaw continued, “[The feast] usually includes glazed ham, potato salad and sugar-laden sweet tea or lemonade. And every true southerner knows it’s not a real Easter dinner unless there’s a relish tray being passed around full of delicious deviled eggs.” Although that sounds lovely, you might be asking yourself a simple question regarding the meat.

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Because in numerous countries across the globe, lamb is often considered to be the traditional Easter dish. And the custom originated from the Passover celebration, as those who practised Judaism chose to consume the meat during the festivities. But after a select few became Christians, the meal subsequently carried over into Easter.

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In the past, Americans adhered to that springtime habit, as they placed lamb on their Easter menus. In fact, the dish became particularly popular during World War Two because sheep’s wool was a must-have material. But once the conflict ended, the clamor over wool dried up, and so did the availability of lamb for Easter.

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Due to that, hungry residents struggled to find significant portions of lamb ahead of their spring celebrations. Undeterred, they soon found a worthy substitute in the form of ham. Not only was the meat a lot cheaper, but it was in perfect condition after being smoked over the winter as well.

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And if that wasn’t enough, ham was also considered to be a much more adaptable option when compared to lamb. Indeed, the former can be served with a number of different side dishes that range in flavor. In turn, that gave families more of a choice in what kind of meal they wanted to prepare for Easter dinner.

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As we mentioned earlier, though, there’s one more custom that a lot of southerners are familiar with every year. Yes, dressing up for Easter has been a tradition for a while now, but what prompted it? Much like some of the previous traditions that we’ve discussed, you can trace the habit back to the distant past.

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For you see, pagans would mark the start of springtime with a massive get together, where they hailed the spring goddess Ostera. As they enjoyed the festivities, the congregation made sure to dress themselves in brand new garments too. In their mind, that simple move would grant them good luck.

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What’s more, similar customs have also been observed in other cultures since ancient times. For instance, Chinese New Year, which is also called Lunar New Year, recognizes the end of winter. To help bring in the spring, nationals put on new outfits, believing that it marks their next “beginning.”

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And those who celebrate the Iranian New Year do much the same too, as we’re about to discover. The big day is scheduled at the turn of spring, prompting locals to dress in new items of clothing. Apparently, it symbolizes a renewed optimism within the population and has done for hundreds of years.

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Elsewhere, the idea behind wearing new garments during the Easter holiday sprung up under the Romans. In fact, one of the emperors of that time made sure that his people were decked out in the latest outfits. And centuries on from that period, the springtime tradition was mentioned in a very famous stage play.

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Yes, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet brought up the idea of an “Easter suit,” suggesting that the custom had survived the test of time. But while these different cultures all had similar ideas about wearing new clothes at the turn of spring, America was a little late to the party. If you’re wondering why, there’s a pretty good reason.

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Well, prior to the Civil War, the United States didn’t recognize Easter as an important celebration in the calendar. This was due to the rulings of both the respective Protestant and Puritanical churches. Once the conflict concluded, though, the two religious bodies believed that the springtime holiday would get people’s spirits up.

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With that in mind, what kind of outfits are deemed to be appropriate now for Easter celebrations in the States? To help answer that question, an etiquette specialist named Lizzie Post shared some of her expertise with the Country Living website. And she focused on women in particular, raising an interesting point.

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“[It] really depends on your church and your community,” Post explained to the site in March 2020. “Church used to be a place that had stricter standards for clothing and attire. Now, I think most churches are trying to be more encouraging and prioritizing participation over attire.” And her thoughts didn’t end there.

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As Post went on to explain, “For the most part, people are looking to avoid jeans and t-shirts and go a step up from that [at the Easter service]. Whether that’s khakis and a polo shirt, a really nice dress – it kind of varies by community and service.” On that note, Darrisaw offered her perspective as a southerner in her article.

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Much like countless others across America’s southern states, Darrisaw experienced Easter in a rather unique way as a child. Yes, the writer recalled that she would often be dressed in a brand new set of clothes for the holiday, with her mom leading the charge. But in the end, she wasn’t too fond of the results.

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Darrisaw wrote in Southern Living, “Growing up, it was a big deal to go shopping for an Easter Sunday outfit. Like most young girls, I wore lace and ruffles every Easter. And by the end of church service, I’d already have tons of scratches on my arms and legs from those God-awful itchy and puffy dresses.”

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Meanwhile, a few more women shared their own stories about Easter outfits, as they sat down to talk with Southern Living. During those conversations, in April 2019, the ladies gave an even clearer picture of what this particular tradition is like. To begin with, one individual cast her mind back to a big moment.

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The woman named Sherry said, “All of my Easter dresses were handmade by my great-aunt, but when I was ten, [my] mother let me pick out a fancy dress in a Birmingham children’s store. It was made of sheer fabric in sea-foam green with a matching slip. The dress had some embroidery on it, and three-quarter puff sleeves.”

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“I have never known why my mom bought that for me,” Sherry added. “But I had a girly dress and wore it every chance I had. Thanks mother!” Away from that, some of the other women spoke about their outfits in more detail, with one noting that she was given a “sailor hat” to wear.

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However, as the stories continued, one really stood out from the rest. This woman touched upon her role as a mom now, revealing that she was carrying the tradition on with her children. Keeping that in mind, this southern custom might not be going anywhere for a long time yet.

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The mother, named Katie, recalled, “I recently took my daughter, Elizabeth Kate, dress shopping for Easter finery for the first time. She initially picked out a gold (fully sequined) number that would outshine the resurrection celebration. Thankfully she moved on to a more tasteful peach-and-white dress, complete with a hat, of course.”

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