The History of Easter and Easter Hats

Black women wearing Easter hats

The tradition of wearing Easter hats, or Easter bonnets, dates back many, many years. In fact, a New York City Easter Parade in 1933 made the holiday headpiece what has since been called ‘a staple of popular culture.’ The use of these Easter hats has grown exponentially since then, but its history is considered a sign of strong religious beliefs.

As the tradition has grown, many African American women have proudly donned bigger, flashier hats with each passing year. When asked to comment, some of these women have mentioned the excitement that comes with preparing these hats. According to Dr. Norma McLachlin, the First Lady of New Life, “It’s a celebratory time. Dressing for Easter is like our gifts for Christmas.”

Although the Easter holiday has so many facets to its celebration, Easter hats are a proud tradition for many Black churchgoers and have been widely considered a public declaration of their sisterhood.

However, the origins of Easter are rooted in many pagan beliefs that go all the way back to the 8th century. In fact, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The English name 'Easter' is of uncertain origin; the Anglo-Saxon priest Venerable Bede in the 8th century derived it from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre.” Other sources have linked 'Easter' to Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess who had the Babylonian counterpart Ishtar.

So why has it become a tradition for some women to wear lavish, colorful hats on Easter day? Well, according to The Giant Book of Superstitions by Claudia De Lys, “It was considered discourteous and therefore bad luck to greet the Scandinavian goddess of Spring, or Eastre, in anything but fresh garb.”

Another source, Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, has said that the tradition of hunting for Easter eggs supposedly brought by the Easter rabbit, “is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite.”