Easter was an exciting time for us children growing up in a Donegal home in the 1950s. Having survived standing for the long gospels of Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday, Holy Week arrived, with Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, each having its own unique catholic rituals. We were shooed off to the chapel for these ceremonies, and even though we had better things to be doing like playing cowboys and indians, we knew that it meant that dreary Lent was coming to an end. There was a definite sombre air about the place on Good Friday in particular, but once we passed 3 pm things lightened up a little and there was serious work to be done!
We were dispatched to the hedges to find a nice branch – a nice elegant one with no leaves was the ideal. For weeks, my mother had collected eggshells after cooking and baking. The broken shells were carefully washed and left on a big tray to dry off. On Good Friday evening, we were allowed to begin painting them. Using standard children’s paint boxes, we painted them pink and blue and red and yellow and green and they were again left to dry. The branch was then painted white and left overnight.
On Saturday my mother threaded a big needle and very carefully pushed it into the end of the painted shells and back out again, making a very neat little hanger. The shells were then hung on the tree and it looked just fabulous when the decoration was completed! She anchored the branch in a large vase and placed it on our very deep kitchen windowsill. The Easter tree tradition is kept up in my family, but the real broken egg shells have been replaced by more sophisticated ornaments! Time perhaps to revert to the traditional way of making the decorations!
Our Easter Vigil church services began at about 9 pm and went on for several hours and it was not unusual for small children to sleep through the entire proceedings! My mother told us that if we were up at sunrise we would see the sun dancing in the sky in celebration of Easter, but of course none of us managed to be out of bed by 6 am to check this out. On Easter Sunday morning we did however have boiled eggs for breakfast. A big pot of them was put on to boil - some were eaten and others when cold were painted. These were then used for ‘egg rolling’. My father used tell us that when he was a boy they had very serious egg-rolling contests down grassy slopes, with everyone in the village taking part. There was nothing formal about our egg rolling, and the fun was between we siblings to see how far our eggs would travel.
Chocolate Easter Eggs arrived later and replaced the egg decorating traditions that had been handed down for generations. The chocolate manufacturers mastered the technique of mass producing hollow chocolate eggs in the early part of the 20th Century. World War 2 brought rationing, so the Chocolate Easter Egg only became the norm for children after the 1950s. They didn’t reach our village until towards the end of that decade. Prior to this chocolate eggs were handmade and beautifully decorated by hand – works of art – as can be seen in the photograph below.
A VERY HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL !