Fellowship, fashion, and festivity: Why we still go to church on Easter Sunday

Juliana Norwood | 4/13/2017, midnight
As families nationwide prepare to participate in one of the most heavily attended church days of the year—second only to ...

So really, the Easter holiday (or Resurrection Sunday, as it preferably called by many staunch Christians) has become the catch-all day for followers of all devotion levels, but these more sporadic attendees certainly aren’t to blame for the showy nature of the Super Bowl Sunday of Christianity.

In the early days of Christianity, newly baptized believers wore white linen robes at Easter to symbolize rebirth and new life. But, it was not until 300 A.D. that wearing new clothes became an official decree, because the Roman emperor Constantine declared that his court must wear the finest new clothing on Easter. Eventually, the tradition came to mark the end of Lent, when after wearing weeks of the same clothes, worshipers discarded the old frocks for new ones.

As superstition would have it, a 15th-century proverb from Poor Robin’s Almanack stated that if one’s clothes on Easter were not new, one would have bad luck: “At Easter let your clothes be new; Or else for sure you will it rue.” In the 16th century during the Tudor reign, it was believed that unless a person wore new garments at Easter, moths would eat the old ones, and evil crows would nest around their homes.

According to fashion history expert Lily McCallister, by the middle of the 20th century, dressing up for Easter had lost much of its’ religious significance and instead symbolized American prosperity. A look at vintage clothing ads from the time showed that wearing new clothes on Easter was something that every wholesome, all-American family was expected to do.

When you look good, you feel good

In a Washington Post piece, Robin Givhan called Easter Sunday “the last tenuous link to the days when a wide swath of the culture believed fashion could be used—without a hint of sarcasm or irony—as a marker of moral rectitude, a symbol of earnest faith, a show of respect. On Easter Sunday, folks got dressed up because they wanted to celebrate life and generosity of spirit. When is the last time anyone ever equated those characteristics with the fashion industry? It’s almost impossible to conceive that fashion once played an integral part in helping people express the joy and redemption that they felt deep within their souls.”

Givhan rightly observed that of all the rampant commercialism of most every holiday, Easter remains relatively modest in comparison, with regard to fashion ad buys.

“There is still something pure about Easter,” said Daliah Thomas, “and I’m unashamedly one of those once-a-year churchgoers.

“I grew up in a very Christian household when it was church every Sunday morning and Sunday evening and Wednesday night bible study, minimum. Then, as a preteen I joined the choir which brought me back to church on Thursday nights for rehearsal. I guess as I got older, and particularly during college, attending church really became more of a choice for me, rather than something I did out of habit. The more I began to figure out what faith looked like for me, I realized it wasn’t traditional “church-every-Sunday-faith” and it took a while for me to be OK with that, but I am now. But, on Easter, I go because I’m excited to see people I haven’t seen in a long time, the music is always great, the praise dancers are beautiful, the message is always very powerful, and it brings my family together for dinner afterwards, so it’s just a joyous day overall.”