How the Victorians Celebrated Easter

In Victorian times, Easter heralded spring and was a beloved social occasion as well as a religious observance. Contrary to our preconceptions that Victorians like restraint and seriousness, many features of their Easter celebrations were bright and colorful. We can take many cues from history to create our own Victorian-inspired spring decorations and gifts.


Easter card with girl and gnome delivering an Easter egg

Easter card with girl and gnome delivering an Easter egg from “Fairyland,” circa 1880s, depicting a wheelbarrow similar to the antique silver-plated version illustrated. (Photo: Barbara Johnson, Ph.D.)


To honor Easter as a sacred event, Victorians expressed devotion with beautiful floral arrangements that decorated churches, and with spiritual images of lambs and crosses on Easter cards. Ladies Fancy Work, 1876, described how to make Easter crosses with myriad elaborately handmade wax flowers, as well as rustic cross pictures sprinkled with diamond dust and hand-embellished with mosses, ferns, coral, shells and bark. Women fashioned beadwork in calla-lily designs to cover shelves and wall pockets. Based on publications of the time, floral arrangements of Easter lilies, white and yellow tulips, violets, purple pansies, lilacs and Chinese azalea adorned Victorian vases and mantels. Women also made token gift posies with white and yellow or purple flowers, such as lily of the valley with violets.


Easter was beloved most by Victorian children. Small-town Easter-egg hunts in Delineator’s April 1896 story “Easter in a Southern Town” described their hunt for colored eggs hidden in boxed hedges, honeysuckle arbors and among lilies. Adorable Easter eggs dressed as Humpty Dumpty clad in purple, green and gold outfits awaited their discovery. Besides prizes for the best hunters, and lemonade and cookies for all, a few extra cents allowed a child to dig for candy favors in a vine-covered flowerpot.


Easter-egg candy containers

Easter-egg candy containers, (left to right) purple violets and chick circa 1890s-1900s, silk egg with Art Nouveau styled girls, circa 1900s-1910s, red egg with floral scrap, circa 1880s; Victorian Easter card, dated 1900. (Photo: Barbara Johnson, Ph.D.).


“Easter Monday in Washington” from The Designer, April 1901, described the fun children had rolling Easter eggs and chasing rabbits on the White House grounds. A marine band played waltzes and patriotic songs. Push-cart vendors sold peanuts, popcorn, whirligigs, balloons, squawkers, fruits, candies and honey cakes. “An Easter Egg-Hunt” in Woman’s Home Companion, April 1903, described egg-and-spoon races, a favorite among young boys. Besides frolic and fun, “An Easter Drill for Little Maids” in The Designer’s April 1901 issue described a graceful performance by girls clad in white parading and gently waving Easter lilies in a coordinating fashion.


Written and photographed by Barbara Johnson, Ph.D., the author of Antique & Vintage Fashions, 1745 to 1979 and Valentines, A Collector’s Guide, 1700s-1950s, both by Collector Books. All photographed items are part of her collection.

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