Easters of dancing suns and coloured eggs

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 The Easter tree tradition is kept up in my family, but the real broken egg shells have been replaced by more sophisticated ornaments!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!



photo (6)

A modern Easter Tree in my sister’s house

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.



Early Cadbury Easter Eggs. Hand decorated, luxury items for adults.


Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Oral History

17 responses to “Easters of dancing suns and coloured eggs

  1. I used to love painting egg shells as a child!!

  2. This post brings back wonderful memories of making similar egg trees with my mother when I was a child. Until I read this post, I’d totally forgotten about them.

  3. Lovely Easter egg tree! great minds think alike Angela, I was contemplating (at midnight, as you do!) writing a post today about Easter as it was.

  4. I was hoping you’d do an Easter Special SV! I had to look up Spy Wednesday, a term I’ve never heard used. Wonderful about the eggshell tree. Even my Irish parents in the Birmingham ’50s didn’t do anything like that and I don’t recall a lack of chocolate eggs 🙂

    • Ah you see you were at the heart of civilization in Birmingham with Bourneville on your doorstep! Donegal had to wait a few more years for the mass produced Chocolate eggs. I do recall my father arriving home with a hand made and hand decorated one for my mother,tat I think he bought in Belfast. We just looked at it for days before destroying the beautiful work of art! Happy Easter!

  5. Happy Easter, SV, and thanks for a really evocative post. You reminded me of Easter’s spent at my grandmother’s farm and decorating a small tree in the yard. We also had Easter Egg hunts which she organised.

    I remember all too well the lifting of the sense of heaviness after 3pm on Good Friday, that you mention. What a relief!

    • Would love to hear more about your grandmother’s tree? And your egg hunts sound fun – I do this now with my grandchildren. Lent was all gloom and doom, with statues covered up, no singing in church, no pictures, no dances. Good Friday was one heavy day for sure and what a relief to have the Alleluias and the organ and the statues back and to be able to resume normal life! Happy Easter to you too!

  6. Some of your traditions do, of course, resonate with me with my West of Ireland childhood, but not painted eggs, nor Easter egg tree.

    Mind you, we avoided that damned Easter bunny too so I am very grateful for that.

  7. I loved reading about your childhood memories, as I always do. We’ve never had a tree, rather a nest which magically filled with coloured boiled eggs on Easter Sunday morning. The only bought eggs we would get were from my Aunt who owned a cafe in Sydney, but only when Dad was doing trips to and fro to the markets or my Aunt ‘came home’ for Easter. When we had a cafe in later years, we looked on with envy at the beautifully hand decorated eggs as in your last photos.. , I can’t recall ever having one of my own at that time. Greek shortbread or kourabiethes featured heavily in the Easter cooking and twisted plaits of freshly cooked bread with red eggs, hard boiled, within them. Lovely to revisit warm memories, thank you.

    • So lovely to hear about your Easter ‘nests’filled with eggs! All of these traditions have died away, replaced by chocolate! Such a shame but so nice to record the old ways while we still remember! Thanks for dropping by!

  8. Our traditions were very different, in an American Protestant family, but I love reading about all traditions, from any culture. The egg tree is a lovely idea and I do think doing it the old way would be fun and so nostalgic!

  9. leith landauer

    The sun dancing on Easter Sunday morning! – yes, my mother used to recall her mother saying to watch for it, and I still think of that on Easter Day. And simnel cake – my sister made it when we used to have family Easters, a tradition that’s sadly slipped away. Thank you, Angela, for the reminders of Easters past.
    Now, what about the Easter Bilby?!…….I’ve just realised there’s no chocolate in the house….grrr! L

    • How good to know that it was not an uncommon thing to look for the Easter ‘dancing sun’! An Easter Bilby is a new one on me – I suspect we do not have Irish Bilby’s !
      Thank you for dropping by and sharing your Easter memories!

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