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35 Charming Vintage Photos of How Easter Used to Be Celebrated

From early White House Easter Egg Rolls to churchgoers' finest hats along the Fifth Avenue parade, these Easter photos make you want to step back in time.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Atlantic City, Easter Parade, 1905

This parade, which started in 1876, is said to be the oldest official Easter Sunday parade in the United States. At its peak in the 1930s, up to 500,000 people promenaded along the boardwalk. Prizes, which were awarded in categories like best dressed and best bonnet, were handed out by another Atlantic City icon: Miss America.

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Three Bright Smiles Parade On EasterBettmann/Getty Images

Bright smiles at the Easter Parade, 1952

Miss Jean Leonard, Air Force Sergeant Harry Logan, and Mrs. Harry Logan celebrate Easter in style as they celebrate in Harlem, New York. For the special occasion, the sergeant made sure to have his uniform pressed and to wear his medals.

Here are the most glamorous vintage photos from the ’50s.

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easter in matching dressesCourtesy Kathleen Lewis/Reminisce

Matching dresses

“For Easter, my mother always made the same dresses for my three girls and my sister Lila’s two daughters. She’d walk the girls uptown, in Johnstown, Ohio, to show them off in a sort of miniature Easter parade,” says Kathleen Lewis of Newark, Ohio.

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FamilyAfro Newspaper/Gado/Getty Images

Happy celebration

A mother and daughter wear festive outfits to celebrate Easter in 1959. Notice the flowers on the mother’s shawl and in the daughter’s hairpiece to honour the start of Spring. 

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easterCourtesy Roland Bodin/Reminisce

Easter loot

“This is my brother-in-law, Steve Broussard, displaying his Easter loot in his family’s yard in Lake Charles. Steve was lucky, with three baskets filled with candy and eggs—and even caught the Easter bunny at work,” says Roland Bodin of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Here’s what a country Christmas was like in the 1950s.

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Family during an Easter celebration, 1959.Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Ready for church

A mother holds the hands of her two little girls as they head to church on Easter Sunday morning. They’re all smiles and happy to be wearing their pretty dresses.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Austen Gray and wife Alice Munroe Burnham, New York City, Easter 1913

While Atlantic City may be the oldest official Easter Parade, New York City’s unofficial Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue is older—it’s been taking place since the 1870s. Fifth Avenue was where the well-to-do worshipped. As Easter displays at the stretch’s churches became more elaborate, so did people’s clothing. Churchgoers would stroll along the avenue after services, to show off their attire and to admire the flowers at other churches. By the 1880s, New York’s parade had become one of the best known Easter traditions in America.

Easter Sunday was the time of the year for people to display their finest hats; the couple shown here both don stylish toppers. (Fun fact: Nine years before this photo was taken, the pair was the cause of nationwide scandal because they wed in secret in Newport, Rhode Island. The reason? Burnham’s parents disapproved of Gray).

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At The White House Easter Egg RollPhotoQuest/Getty Images

Easter Egg Roll, 1963

Two young children take a break after participating in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, D.C., on April 6.

Can you guess in which decade these iconic photos were taken?

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easterCourtesy Lavonne Bouressa/Reminisce

A colourful Easter

Little Kerri Reed is all decked out, complete with bunny, for the Easter parade. Kerri’s aunt, Lavonna Bouressa of Sacramento, California, vividly remembers those days when she and her sister, Helyn Reed, made colourful Easter outfits for their young daughters.

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easterCourtesy Charlene Derby/Reminisce

Stars and stripes for Easter

Charlene Derby finally formally thanked her Aunt Agnes for the Easter dresses the three nieces were proudly wearing.

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A happy Chinese boy practices his Easter Alleluias on the missionary's piano in Loyang , China.Archive Photos/Getty Images

Church Hymns

A young boy is practicing his Easter Alleluias on a piano in Loyang, China.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Fifth Avenue Parade, New York City, Easter 1912

At its height of NYC’s Easter Parade, up to one million people attended, either to walk in it or to gawk at the well-dressed throngs. Today the parade, which runs between 49th and 57th Streets on Fifth Avenue, is also full of other species of paraders: dogs and birds.

Don’t miss these photos of famous landmarks under construction.

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easterCourtesy Kathleen Andrews/Reminisce

Welcoming Spring

Smiles and new outfits welcome the spring. Andrews’ sisters, from left, Colleen, Kathleen, and Maureen, and brother, Jim, show off their mom’s sewing skills in matching outfits in Coventry, Rhode Island, in 1962.

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easterCourtesy Kathy Gastellu/Reminisce

Elegant on Easter

“This is my mom, Alice Hurst, with my brother Tom on Easter in 1951 in California,” says Kathy Gastellu of Buckeye, Arizona. “Mom is still looking cover-girl beautiful today.”

These pieces of 1950s marriage advice still make good sense today!

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easter egg dyeingCourtesy Peggy Oels/Reminisce

Egg-Dyeing duties

Just before Easter in 1959, Peggy Oels, age four, now of Glendale, Arizona, and her sister, Kathy, seven years old, look up briefly from their egg-dyeing duties at their home in Tucson.

Learn the real reason bunnies are so popular for Easter.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Dressmaker sketching the gowns at NYC’s Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, undated

Dressmakers, like the one shown here, would knock off the outfits they saw on the women walking by on the street. People still parade along Fifth Avenue these days, although their clothing is a lot less formal.

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easterCourtesy Martin Lee Klug/Reminisce

New church outfits

Martin Lee Klug and big brother Richard, posing here with their father, Leo Klug, always looked forward to Easter in the 1950s. They would wear their new outfits to church, then they’d get baskets before going to their grandparents’ house in Baltimore, Maryland, for Easter dinner.

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easterCourtesy Dyla Greenlaw/Reminisce

Fashion show bunnies

In 1949, Dyla Greenlaw and her friends were bunnies in a fashion show in Waterville, Maine. “My aunt Gwendolyn Foster sang ‘Easter Parade’ as each bunny escorted a model down the runway,” Dyla writes from Yemassee, South Carolina.

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easterCourtesy Joan Kump/Reminisce

Loving Easter morning

There’s no doubt Roxie Kump was happy on Easter 1965. “She was thrilled with her basket,” writes her mother, Joan, of Aspers, Pennsylvania.

Read on for more true stories behind the most iconic photos in American history.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Annual Easter flower market, NYC’s Union Square

Every year, an annual Easter flower market was held in New York City’s Union Square over Easter weekend. Saturday was by far the busier of the two days when New Yorkers would flock for blooms to display on their Easter dinner tables.

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candy factoryCourtesy Richard Barron/Reminisce

Candy factory

“My aunt Penelope Sweeney was a decorator at the Heidelberg Candy Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” says Richard Barron of Tampa, Florida. “She’s on the left in this 1949 photo. On Easter morning, my brothers and I each were given our own two and a half-pound chocolate egg, which she had decorated with our names.”

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easterCourtesy Kathy Dalton/Reminisce

A real stuffed bunny

“My cousin David and I sat for this picture in 1954 at our grandmother’s house in Clifton, West Virginia. It was my first Easter, and as you can guess from my present, my dad was a taxidermist—a good one I might add,” says Kathy Dalton of Rutland, Ohio.

Check out these rare vintage photos of Elvis Presley!

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easterCourtesy Kathleen Surma/Reminisce

Waking up to see our outfits

“Each spring, Mom took the Easter hats, headbands and dresses from the previous year to make them new. She bought new flowers, ribbons, and lace, and stayed up late finishing her creations. I remember getting up on Easter morning to see our outfits ready for us to wear to church,” says Kathleen Surma of St. Cloud, Minnesota. 

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easterLibrary of Congress

Easter Parade, Chicago, 1941

In the Windy City, churchgoers also showed off their best on the streets after attending church services.

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easterCourtesy Joan Houseman/Reminisce

Cat-eye frames

Sporting rounded cat-eye frames in 1955, Florence Houseman shows off her homemade Easter bonnet at a family gathering at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Florence’s daughter-in-law, Joan, says the women in the family would try to outdo one another with their outrageous hats.

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easterCourtesy Jane Christie Gibson/Reminisce

Not so sure about him

“In spring 1958, at 14 months old, I was sitting on the lap of a giant, scary-looking Easter bunny. My sister, Carol, three and a half, is smiling, apparently enjoying my distress,” says Jane Christie Gibson of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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easterCourtesy Sandy Frankenbach/Reminisce

Sunday best in the middle of the week

“In 1962, our minister asked us to pose for an Easter picture for the Herald-Whig in Quincy, Illinois. So Norbert and I and our children, Paul, Mark, and Diane went to church at midweek wearing our Sunday best. The kids were confused by it all,” says Sandy Frankenbach of Palmyra, Missouri.

Here’s what school pictures looked like 75 years ago.

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easterLibrary of Congress

Warren Sonnemann with a prize basket, White House Easter Egg Roll, 1923

The White House’s first unofficial Easter Egg Roll was thought to have taken place during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration, although the first official Roll was held there on Easter Monday in 1878 during Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency. (Side note: Between the Lincoln and Hayes Egg Rolls, people rolled eggs on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. But because it attracted such large crowds who damaged the lawns, Congress passed the Turf Protection Law, which decreed the Capitol grounds should not be “used as playgrounds or otherwise.”) During the Egg Roll, kids race eggs by pushing them with a long-handled spoon.

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easterLibrary of Congress

President and Mrs. Harding’s dog Laddie Boy, White House Easter Egg Roll, 1923

The Presidents’ pets usually make an appearance at the White House Egg Roll. In 1923, neither President Warren G. Harding nor First Lady Florence Harding attended the Easter Egg Roll, but their Airedale terrier, Laddie Boy, took their place. Laddie Boy is considered to be the first White House celebrity pet. The press covered his every move, the White House threw him birthday parties, and he had a hand-carved chair to sit in during cabinet meetings. He would accompany the president during golf outings, where he’d fetch errant balls. It is said that he howled for the three days before the president died in summer 1923 because he somehow knew his beloved master was about to pass away.

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First Lady Grace Coolidge with pet raccoon Rebecca, White House Easter Egg Roll 1927

One of the most unusual animal companions to appear at the White House Egg Roll had to be Rebecca, owned by First Lady Grace Coolidge. The raccoon had been destined to be served as a dish at the White House Thanksgiving dinner table, but she was so playful and friendly that the Coolidges decided to keep her. She had a little house built in a tree on the White House grounds, and she was also allowed to roam unfettered through the White House.

She ate her meals—shrimp, chicken, persimmons, cream, and eggs—on the floor of the first lady’s bathroom, and the president liked to play with her after he was done working (he’d walk around with her draped around his neck). After Rebecca escaped from the White House a few times, the Coolidges moved her to Rock Creek Zoo where it was thought she’d be safer.

Discover the most famous pets to live in the White House!

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easterCourtesy Alice Sheets/Reminisce

Tennessee Easter parade

“With our new hats, my brothers, sisters and I are ready for the Easter parade. This was in Morristown, Tennessee, in 1941, when I was seven,” says Alice Sheets of Central City, Nebraska.

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easterLibrary of Congress

White House policeman Edgar E. Porter and lost children, 1923 Egg Roll

The Egg Roll is a perennially well-attended event since it’s open to the public. In 1899, over 8,000 people attended; in 2015, 30,000 were invited. Today, tickets are given out by an online lottery, and at least one family from all 50 states is chosen. In addition, tickets are distributed to 3,000 public school students from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, as well as 4,000 children from military families. Here, White House policeman Edgar E. Porter was assigned in 1923 to care for kids who became separated from mom and dad.

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easterCourtesy Vincent James/Reminisce

Hunt for eggs

“Many things in addition to our new clothes made Easter special in the 1960s,” says Vincent James of Elmont, New York. “Shirley, Richard, and Raymond would rush home after services at St. Mark AME to hunt for eggs, and then we’d visit with grandma and grandpop downstairs.”

For the curious, here’s why eggs are synonymous with Easter.

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easterCourtesy Susan Kreiss/Reminisce

Who will collect the most?

“My brother Thomas, sister Cynthia and I are going Easter egg hunting in 1962. Our mom made those dresses,” says Susan Kreiss of Rosenburg, Oregon.

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Children with U.S. Air Force personnel, England, Easter, 1942-1945

During World War II, U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in England took some local children under their wings. Here, they’re seen cheering on their young friends who were battling it out in an Easter game of tug-of-war. The kind-hearted military men saved candy from their rations for one month to award it to the kids who participated.

Next, take a look at these photos of Princess Elizabeth before she became Queen.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest