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Nineteenth-Century Easter Festivities Got Rowdy

Nineteenth-Century Easter festivities often became rowdy affairs. Granted, you might not associate the eighteen hundreds with outrageously boisterous fun. Synonyms for “Victorian” include prissy, tight-laced and stern. But Spring is the time for nature to get frisky and for humans to let their hair down.

Following are just a few nineteenth-century Easter festivities sometimes revealed a wilder side of our ancestors.

Flowering Sunday Turned Cemeteries Into Party Zones

Flowering Sunday (Sul y Blodau) was a day for people in Wales and nearby English towns to whitewash gravestones and decorate them like an Easter bonnet. It was traditionally held on Palm Sunday, but sometimes on Easter Sunday.

Much like Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Latin America, Flowering Day was intended to honor and remember those who have passed ahead of us.

The Early Tourists in Wales website catalogues tourists’ comments about Wales from 18th and 19th century books, magazines, newspapers and elsewhere.

According to Early Tourists in Wales, by the middle of the 19th century, Flowering Sunday attracted large crowds:

“The number of visitors reported to have visited the cemeteries were very large (10,000 to the new cemetery in Cardiff in 1879, 20,000 in 1889 and 50,000 in 1898; 25,000 to Swansea cemetery in 1906). There were problems with crowd control resulting in the need for extra police or the distribution of tickets only to those visiting relatives’ graves. The demand for flowers for this custom was so great that they were sent from London.”

Weekly Mail, April 24.1886

Sometimes the nineteenth-century Easter festivities went to the wild side. Commenting from Cardiff, a Flowering Sunday visitor wrote that the shops were filled with flowers and floral devices. Thousands of tourists descended on the Church at Llandaff Cathedral and other cemeteries in the area. It was a beautiful showing, except for one development.

“…the road to which, at certain periods of the day, was thronged with vehicles and pedestrians. One very unpleasant feature in connection with this must not be allowed to pass unnoticed. Itinerant vendors of sweets and refreshments waylaid the passers-by…and a thriving trade was done in ginger beer and fruit. This practice, which has been growing for some years past, cannot be too strongly condemned, and it is to be hoped that in the future steps will be taken to put a stop to such thoughtless desecration.” 

Cardiff Times, March 17, 1888, printed:

“Ald. Lyne referred to the probable recurrence of rowdy scenes at the cemetery on Flowering Sunday, and on the motion of Ald. Davis, it was decided that a large staff of police be told of for the day.”

Merlin, on March 30,1888 wrote that the floral display was not as good as previous years. That was probably due to inclement weather. Nevertheless police were in place:

“Due to the rowdyism usually prevailing in the Cemetery on Flowering Sunday, there was yesterday, a strong force of police on duty there, and of course the presence of this largely had the effect of preserving order, decorum, and better conduct than has unfortunately hitherto been the rule.”

In Cardiff, 1891, a visitor wrote that it was fortunate that the Sunday-closing law was observed”

“… or the erstwhile solemn and significant function, marked in recent years by much frivolity, would assuredly degenerate to a carnival if not an orgy … on the part of those crowds who regard the occasion in the light of a regular holiday.”

It might seem strange from our perch in the present to imagine cemeteries as a party site. But they offered a popular destination for picnics at a time before parks were created for urban populations. Picnics were especially popular on holidays including Easter.

Fairlie Creek Attracted Crowds Celebrating Easter Monday

The Fairlie Branch railway in southern Canterbury, New Zealand began construction in 1874. Like railways expanding around the world, it brought city dwellers back to the country for holidays. On this day in 1890, the new railway enticed large crowds of revelers to the area to celebrate Easter Monday.

According to South Canterbury Times, April 8, 1890, a strong contingent of holiday makers from Timaru made a good showing.

“The special train of seven cars picked up a considerable number at the point, and others at every flag stations beyond, until it was throroughly packed, even the platforms being crowded, the live load numbering about 180 or 200.”

Of course, among the activities was the usual showing of Easter dresses and bonnets. But at the annual meeting at Fairlie Creek nineteenth-century Easter festivities could get rowdy.

There was a very close horse race that nearly ended in a brawl. Officials engaged the , “Timaru City Band whose brazen notes much enlivened the proceedings.” Mr. Adams’ well supplied luncheon tent and Mr. McLeod’s booth, “all varieties of cups that cheered, but so far as appearances went did not much inebriate were at the command for sixpence.

In Wellington, There was also a spirited bowling match. And of course, nothing says Easter like a sham war.

“…the Navals, to the strength of 200, under Captain Duncan, left camnp for Ohara Bay, with two of the Nelson’s guns to represent the attacking party, while the remaining companies of the camp, with 3 guns marched in the direction of the twon with the biew of defending the city from the former..”

In the end, the heated battle of Easter Monday was announced as a draw and all soldiers retreated to respective parties.

Fancy Easter Bonnets Put Spring In The Step

Throughout the nineteenth-century Easter festivities, fancy bonnets  and the parades that showcased them were favorite springtime events. Yes, Easter Parades have been around since the beginning of spring. And countless cultures have insisted that new clothes should be worn on Easter to ensure good fortune year round. But with the nineteenth century came some truly spectacular hats.

Not everyone treasured the beloved Easter Bonnet that served as fodder for countless Puck covers.  

Puck (1871-1903) was the first successful humor magazine in the United States. It was known for political satire, caricatures and cartoons. The editors noted that the poorer classes had to observe upscale Easter bonnets from the sidelines of the most famed parades.

Easter Parades Made A Big Splash And Some Controversy

Gilded Age Easter Parades bloomed into spectacular affairs in both small towns and big cities across America. Easter remained a religious holiday with a post-church promenade for many. For others, church took a back seat to the chance to strut spring outfits.

The most famous Gilded Age Easter parade was the stroll down Fifth Avenue in New York City. It flowered into an eye-popping affair where the latest fashions for men and women became trends. It was also the target of satire and criticism as vanity and conspicuous consumption elbowed the have-nots to the sidelines.

Fun With Easter Eggs: Tapping, Shackling, Dancing

People have had springtime fun with eggs for centuries. Fun with Easter egg tapping, shackling, and dancing have all provided springtime amusement. Not to mention hunting, picking, boxing knocking, jarping and the good old-fashioned egg fights. The Victorian Era was no egg-ception.

Quirky Victorian Easter Cards Delivered Surprisingly Twisted Humor

Like Creepy Christmas Cards and Vinegar Valentines before them, these quirky Victorian Easter cards delivered laughs. All forms of humor including sarcasm, puns, irony and incongruity were at play. They’re often macabre, but much of the humor seems oddly rooted in human experience.

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