As a child, it was a family tradition to buy a new dress and matching hat every Easter. Looking back, this seems to be very out of place in the general theme of my childhood. We were frugal people and not fashion-forward. This was a girls-only activity, and I don't think the boys got new Easter pants or anything like that. I wonder now where my mother got this idea. I seem to remember her being as excited about buying the new clothes as we were to pick them out and get them. Maybe she liked the fact that there was an excuse to spend a little money on ourselves.
This tradition obviously extends outside our family, as Irving Berlin didn't write songs just for us. New clothes at Easter go along with the whole theme of renewal. Easter was also the first opportunity to be frivolous after Lent. It's like Mardi Gras, except with less drunkenness and more, uh, flowery hats. Okay, it's nothing like Mardi Gras.
We would make a special trip to the big city of Hickory on some Sunday afternoon before Easter to go to all the department stores that we didn't have in my hometown. The racks would be filled with pastels to attract us and other women who were eager to start wearing feminine colors again after a winter of black and brown. I don't remember where we bought the hats, and if I had to go out and buy an Easter hat right now, I'd be pressed to think of a place to go (I guess I'd go to the thrift store, like always). But the stores must have had a few for the holiday, knowing that there were still some mothers and grandmothers out there who wanted bonnets for their little girls. I got new shoes, too, and also those constricting symbols of innocent girlhood - a pair of white tights. We would come home and model our new clothes for Daddy, who endured the fashion show with remarkable patience. Or maybe it was indifference.
The clothes and hats and shoes would be put away until Easter morning. Left to my own devices, I would have put them on every day after school and gone around in the goat pen in them. I'm sure the goats would have appreciated them very much; the hat in particular would have been tasty indeed. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says "Did'st thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?" In my case, it would be more like "Did'st thou not fall out with thy mother for letting a bovidae nibble on thy new hat?"
Come Easter Sunday, I'd get up early just to get dressed, being very careful about not ruining the tights, and revel in the newness of my outfit. At church, I would be sweet and demure, looking like a proper little girl from a picture book one day a year, instead of the kind of little girl who would have to be told not to wear her nice clothes into a goat pen. In an effort to match my pretty and clean clothes, I would try very hard to be still and quiet while the preacher talked about the stuff that Easter is actually about.
At some point, probably somewhere in my adolescence, the tradition faded out. But there was one Easter, probably while I was in college, where my mother and I wore hats again. We had these nice sun hats that we'd bought in Australia for going out on a day trip on a boat. We put on pretty spring dresses that we had lurking in our closets, donned our Australia hats and went to Easter breakfast at church. We were the only people with headwear, and everyone there was sure to comment on it. It was a sweet mother-daughter morning, feeling special and dressed up in our outfits, but a little embarrassed at all the attention.
And that's my bit of holiday reminiscing for the day. Happy Easter.