A Movable Feast

28 March 2018

Cultural Studies | History

Occurring on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox, Easter is symbolic of seasonal change.

 
One of the major international Christian festivals of the year, for many Easter marks the end of Lent and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after the crucifixion. The holiday also has pagan origins, heralding the beginning of spring and the return of fertility - with the arrival of new-born rabbits, lambs, chicks and ducklings.
 
For many of us, food is key to our perceptions of the holiday. In the UK children and adults alike wait excitedly for the ‘Easter Bunny’ to deliver seasonal chocolate eggs and many families gather for a traditional Easter Sunday roast dinner.
 
But have any of these traditions and practices become more or less fixed over time?
 
Day surveys included in our landmark Mass Observation Online resource give us a fascinating and sometimes surprising insight into the different ways young adults spent their Easter Sundays eighty years ago:
 
Image © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
 
Naturally egg exchanges, Easter Sunday church services and family lunches are recurring events, but there are also accounts of excursions and meetings with friends and associates. For instance, below a 21-year-old textile operator describes an Easter Sunday outing with his cycling club:
 
Image © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
 
There is a somewhat relatable feeling of restlessness and boredom in many of these accounts, as if the writers - many of whom lived at home with their parents prior to marriage - were eager to escape the family home and make the most of their extended time off. Another observer rather harshly summarises his Easter Sunday meal:
 
‘There was some talk during the meal with my parents but it should not be termed conversation as I understand the term…I was probably reading most the time and throwing in a monosyllable here and there.’
 
The cyclist concludes his survey with some appreciative remarks about the Easter holiday, before amusingly dismissing the Mass Observation Project as a ‘waste of time, temper, and paper’:
 
Image © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
 
It seems that both then and now Easter can be seen to bring together differing and changing attitudes, customs and rituals.

Available now, our Mass Observation Online resource provides access to the pioneering Mass Observation Archive, offering unparalleled insight into everyday life in Britain between 1937 and the mid-1950s. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Author

Nicola Cattini

Nicola Cattini

I am a Development Editor at Adam Matthew, having joined the team in 2018. While my academic background lies in English Literature, I have worked on a few different subjects within academic publishing, including theatre and performance, film and media studies, sociology and law. I am now looking forward to expanding my knowledge of history and working on a range of new projects at Adam Matthew.

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