Home Massachusetts What They Said About Easter in New England

What They Said About Easter in New England


Easter Sunday traditions in New England have long included dyeing eggs, wearing new clothes, baking hot cross buns and attending sunrise services. They are based on pagan superstitions, which of course is why the Puritans didn’t celebrate the holiday. (The Puritans didn’t like Christmas, either.) For the early Puritans, celebrating the Lord’s Day 52 times a year was quite enough.

Showing off new Easter clothes in Boston, 1936. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Showing off new Easter clothes in Boston, 1936. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Others brought traditions from Europe. Germans believed, for example, that rabbits laid beautifully colored eggs on Easter.

Franco-Americans rose before the sun came up to fetch water, which they called Peau de Paques, from a stream. They believed it had miraculous qualities, staying pure indefinitely. They washed with it, drank it and saved it.

Easter usually (though not always) falls later for members of the Greek Orthodox Church than for other Christians. On the holiday itself, Greek Orthodox Christians used to greet each other by saying, “Christ has risen.” The response: “Truly he has risen.”

Italian-Americans have a number of sayings about Easter, including ‘happy as Easter’ (which means someone is happy) or ‘as long as Lent’ (which means something is long).

What They Say

Clifton Johnson in his 1897 book, What They Say in New England: A Book of Signs, Sayings and Superstitionsbrings us a saying about new clothes:

Wear three new things on Easter, and you will have good luck all that year.

That comes from an old Anglican belief that bad luck happens from wearing old clothes on the holiday:

At Easter let your clothes be new,
Or else be sure you will it rue.

Here’s another one from Johnson:

The sunlight always dawns on the wall on Easter morning.

That probably stems from an old Irish belief:

The sun dances when it rises on Easter morning.

Johnson includes folklore about eggs:

An egg laid on Easter Sunday will never spoil. It will not rot, though it may dry up. This is equally true of an egg laid on Good Friday.

Here’s another one:

Two yolks in an Easter egg foretell a great gain in wealth.

Quite a lot of lore surrounds hot cross buns, too pagan for the Puritans, but embraced by New England’s Anglicans:

If you hang a hot cross bun from your kitchen ceiling, it won’t get stale.

Taking a hot cross bun to sea will protect against shipwreck.

Hanging a hot cross bun from the ceiling prevents fire.

Sharing a hot cross bun cements friendships if an incantation is uttered with it: “Half for you and half for me, Between us to good luck shall be.

This one came from Salem, Mass.:

Run around a fairy ring twice on Easter Sunday morning, and fairies will arise and follow you. (A fairy ring is a dry spot where there is no dew.)

And this one from Salem, N.H.:

Knit a garter and color it yellow. Don it on Easter Day. Wear it for a year. The wearer will be engaged before the year is out.

This story was updated in 2024. 


Bobo Leach April 20, 2014 - 12:36 pm

Damn! I forgot the hot cross buns

Double Dating in Colonial New England - New England Historical Society December 27, 2015 - 8:03 am

[…] with too many leap years. Equinoxes were falling 10 days too early. Catholics were concerned Easter wasn’t celebrated in the proper season. So in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII approved the New Style, or […]

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