I come from a devout Catholic family that starts planning our annual Easter Sunday festivities before the Ash Wednesday crosses have been wiped clean from our foreheads.
Our Easter menus are nailed down before the second week in March. My sister, Jennifer, and I — we’re both now in our 40s — still convene at my mom’s house each and every Holy Saturday to color dozens of Easter eggs. These days we let my 14-year-old niece and 8-year-old nephew join us. (Notice I said that they join us.)
Easter is the holiest of Christian holidays as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so it was one of the two times during the year — the other was Christmas — that we children were treated to a trip to the beauty parlor. And, after hours of sitting still, we would emerge with shiny presses and almost shoulder-length Shirley Temple curls.
But it was Easter fashions that my mother took the most seriously. When Jennifer and I were really little, she made our pastel dresses. Yes, we were those little girls with matching pink, or yellow, or robin’s-egg blue outfits with matching hats, adorned with those awful plastic flowers, and white gloves. My dad would even oblige, arriving to church with us spit-shined clean in a polyester suit (remember, this was the early 1980s) and a tie that matched our dresses.
As we became teenagers and then young women, we’d pick out our own floral frocks from JCPenney or Dress Barn or Macy’s. We always met at 11:30 a.m. Mass. Some years, all three of us would be #twinning. Other years, we’d be the clash of the Wellingtons. But we always posed for an Easter picture together. Two weeks ago on an essential run to Target, I was this close to grabbing a taupe faux leather skirt. I knew my matchy-matchy sister couldn’t top this edgy look.
But I didn’t.
Why? Because intuitively, I knew I wouldn’t make it back to New York this year. Even though I was actually willing to brave it on the New Jersey Turnpike. But Jennifer absolved me. “Nah, girl,” she said, in her bossy, loving tone. “Stay home. Make yourself a mimosa. We’ll FaceTime. It will be OK. We don’t want to get you sick. You don’t want to get us sick. But come July, it’s on!"
So this Easter Sunday will be the first year ever that I’ll spend by myself in my Philadelphia apartment in — gasp — yoga pants, sports bra, and a loose-fitting tee. No makeup. No curls. Just me and my desperately-in-need-of-a-pedicure feet.
But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be grace in my heart. Or joy in my home. Or I won’t celebrate the gift of life — the true miracle of Easter.
We celebrate the Resurrection every year as a new beginning, a new chance to get this thing we call life right, because Jesus loved us enough to die on the cross. And, in rising from the dead, he proved to us that he was indeed, the son of God. This is why we rejoice. This is why we wear new clothes, to symbolize this new beginning.
In many Christian religions — especially during the Easter vigil — newcomers to the faith would be baptized in white robes.
The clothes are important. They’re symbolic.
Dressing up for Easter, with the pastel and frills, didn’t become mainstream popular until the early 20th century when the holiday, like Christmas, became commercialized, thanks to the proverbial Easter Bunny and Bing Crosby’s rendition of “The Easter Parade” in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn. Who didn’t want to get dressed up for Easter after seeing that dreamy film?
For black people — especially during the early-to-mid 20th century — dressing up for Easter Sunday took on extra meaning. Many of us worked as domestics, so on Easter Sunday, we took off our dingy uniforms and dressed in our finest. I know this is why back in the day my grandmother inspected our Easter outfits down to our ruffled underwear. We were a stylish extension of everything she held dear: hope, fashion, family, and yes, her strong Catholic faith.
But in this scary era of the coronavirus, celebrating rebirth doesn’t mean crowding into a church in new duds — although I’m still coveting that taupe leather skirt from Target. It doesn’t mean risking my life to receive Communion. It doesn’t mean being seen so that my friends and family can see I am a believer. Hopefully God knows that.
The holiday means more to me than it ever did. And I will likely be at my most casual. That’s because, while thousands of people have lost their lives, I am safe and healthy. My 77-year-old dad, who is on dialysis, is coronavirus-free. My mother, who is also in her 70s, is healthy, too. My brother-in-law, who has had to report to work every day because he’s a subway driver for New York City Transit, is still doing all right. And that means my sister and her kids are well, too.