Antique Card Hints at Easter Traditions

By Lura Jackson

 

Winters often lingered well past Easter, particularly in decades past. In this shot from Easter morning in the 1920s, a decidedly wintry North Street extends into the distance as well-dressed townsfolk go about their business. 

In the previous two issues, letters retrieved from a hidden cache on Barker Street dating to 1938 were reviewed. All of the letters were sent to “Mrs. Joseph Kelly”, who has been identified as Eleanor A. Pillans Kelley, wife of boilermaker Joseph. The first letter was from her nephew in Boston, who told her of the damage done in New London by the Great New England Hurricane that year. The second letter was from a couple in Fairville, New Brunswick, thanking Eleanor for holding a wedding reception for them. This week, the piece of post is from Eleanor’s daughter, Inez.

It’s spring in 1938, though you might not know it by looking out the window. While the calendar says it’s been spring for a few weeks, snow clings to the ground and the trees remain barren. On this particular morning—April 17th—Eleanor received a hand-delivered card from her daughter, Inez, celebrating Easter Sunday. 

The envelope is addressed to “Mum”. The cover of the card is colorful, with a cartoonish bunny bearing tulips and a basket filled with eggs, alongside a duck carrying a tulip in its mouth. Inside, the words, “This funny bunny hopped your way to bring you Easter joy today!” Below that, Inez writes: “With lots of love, Inez”.

Clearly, the concept of Easter and its traditions has not changed much between 1938 and 2016. We continue to celebrate Easter with symbols of spring, unusually colorful eggs, and greeting cards. But where did these traditions come from?

According to the New England Historical Society, the belief that rabbits lay colorful eggs on Easter Sunday originated in Germany and migrated to the new world with colonists from that part of Europe. Other settlers brought their own beliefs, including the Irish belief that the sun dances when it rises on Easter morning. 

There are some Easter sayings that haven’t survived as well in the modern era. An Anglican belief tells us that if we wear old clothes on Easter, we’ll have bad luck, while a tradition from Salem, New Hampshire advises that if we don a yellow garter on Easter and wear it for a year, we’ll be engaged before the year is out.

In Calais, Easter has a tradition of being well-celebrated in the community. In 1938, the high prevalence of Catholics in the area may have meant that an Easter parade was held, or that the Stations of the Cross were enacted publicly. Greeting cards such as this would have been very popular, as were post cards.

While the letter itself tells us little about Inez, we can piece together more about her from existing records. In 1900, Inez is recorded as Eleanor and Joseph’s daughter, so she was at least 38 by the time she sent this card to her mother. In 1935, she is listed as living at her parents’ home on Barker Street while working as a stenographer for Jane Todd. 

Jane Todd was a successful businesswoman who operated a candy business, store, and later a restaurant and ice cream parlor on Main Street in Calais, so having a stenographer in her service to type records would have certainly been helpful. At the time, Inez may have spent her days taking notes in shorthand and converting them into longer typed notes later. In the 1930s, upwards of 96 percent of stenographers were women, according to national data.

Inez is now buried in the Calais cemetery, where we presume her parents were also interred.

 

Special thanks to Vikki McConvey. The card from Inez and its two companion pieces will be preserved without claim by the St. Croix Historical Society.