The celebration of the arrival of spring began in ancient times. The pagan goddess Eostre was an Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring – bringing brighter and longer days. She was also the goddess of fertility (eggs were a symbol of fertility and newborn chicks represent new growth). Around the 2nd century AD, Christian missionaries ventured north and used existing pagan holidays as a way to convert people to Christianity. They allowed people to continue their seasonal celebrations, but added Christian meanings to them, and gradually over time overtook the pagan meaning. This is why the pagan goddess’s name Eoster – is now the name of the spring holiday Easter. It is also why some of the symbols used to celebrate the pagan holiday are still seen today – brightly colored eggs, baby chicks, rabbits, and flowering plants.
Although eggs have always been a symbol of the season, the practice of delivering eggs was first introduced in German in the early 17th century and brought to the U.S. by Dutch settlers in the 1700s. German children would make decorated nests for their eggs – which were filled with eggs and little gifts by the Easter bunny the night before (kinda like Santa).
We can really see the blend of seasonal and religious symbols in the holiday’s greeting cards. Ancient Egyptians would exchange notes on papyrus – and this practice was also shared by Greek and Chinese cultures. These would be much the same as handmade paper cards that were popular in the early 13th century. But it wasn’t until postage stamps were introduced in the 1840s that greeting cards came into their own.
Cards became an extremely popular way to send personal messages – and with the availability commercial production – they were made on a mass scale. Cards were made for all the holidays, but since Easter was mostly seen as a religious holiday, the use of greeting cards didn’t take off until the turn of the 19th century. The Easter card was born in Europe when a stationer in Victorian England added a drawing of a rabbit to his greeting card. Later cards included chickens, eggs, rabbits, the cross and more. Early Easter greetings were sent on postcards that featured Easter symbols or natural scenery. Many were colorful and often embossed, or had gold cutouts.
According to American Greetings, Easter is the fourth most popular holiday for sending cards, just behind Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Here are a few from our collection…
And just for fun… here is a stereoscope card of a woman “Trying on the Easter Bonnet”. Easter was also known as the holiday were it women would sport their new spring hat/bonnet.