Published 6th April 2023, 1:2pm
Bygone Easter Observances and Folklore
As we prepare for Easter, we invite you to take a trip back in time through our Oral History archives and uncover how earlier generations celebrated this season, and also learn about some old-time folklore and beliefs in connection to Easter time.
Church Services and Programmes
For many, Easter was synonymous with church services and programmes. Mrs. Olivene Barnett of West Bay, b. 30th January 1914, spoke to this in her 1988 interview: “First of all, Good Friday, everybody kept Good Friday so sanctimonious, you know, sanctimonious, just like it would be a sabbath; they wouldn’t work, they tried to have everything done by Thursday, all the cleaning and cooking and…it was really just a special day and then the churches would have services for Good Friday. We’d have a church programme on Good Friday night. We also would have church programmes on Easter night”.
Ms. Ermyn Merren of George Town, b. 4th September 1928, elaborated in her 1999 interview: “The Church of God [Chapel] also had Good Friday services. On Easter[Sunday] there was a sunrise service and in the evening an Easter Programme. “The children just loved to say little recitations and be in little groups, with their parts. We had a lot of plays. We used to have some lovely plays in these days, but the Easter Programmes, the church was filled. Everyone came out to the programmes…it was a big time.”
Ms. Genevieve Bodden of West Bay, b. 6th February 1914, made mention in her 1988 interview of girls traditionally having a white dress made to wear to church for the various Easter programmes.
Sunday School Picnics and Easter egg hunts
Mrs. Olivene remembered her first participation in Easter egg hunts as a teenager when she attended Sunday School picnics. They would hard boil the eggs, decorate and hide them, and children would search and keep the ones they found. Not too dissimilar to the modern-day Easter egg hunts, with the exception of using plastic eggs stuffed with candy. She remembers that Easter egg hunting was brought to Cayman by the early Pilgrim Holiness missionaries from the US. “…they introduced that to us…we’d pick a certain place to have the picnic, you know and those children that found [the eggs]…could keep them and claim them for their own if they found them. And then we’d have ice cream and cakes and a very good time.”
Like Mrs. Olivene, Ms. Ermyn also linked Easter egg hunts to Sunday School picnics, but for her these were organized by her church, the George Town Church of God Chapel. She mentioned having especially fond memories of these being held several years at the Richard Holeman and Bendel Tracy beach homes near to West Bay. The owners of these homes, some of the first Americans to buy property and build homes here, were friends of the Merrens and allowed the church to use the cottages for beach events when they were not visiting the island. Visiting youth leaders from the U.S. helped organize Easter egg hunts and these were very popular with all the young people.
Mrs. Olivene offered that Easter Monday was “more or less…[about] regatta[s].” These would either be held in George Town or West Bay. “…It would be a great day with all those schooners and boats you know, racing …” She most vividly recalled Easter regattas with the Goldfield, Hennings and Majestic racing. For more information see “Cayman’s First Regattas – January 1935-1939” on our website, 31st January 2022. (http://www.cina.gov.ky/portal/page/portal/cnahome/announcements/Cayman's%20First%20Regattas)
Home and food Traditions
Mrs. Theida Bodden of Cayman Brac, b. 10th February 1928, spoke about home and food preparations in her 2004 interview. Preparing for Easter: “Every family prepare[d]. Brush up your yard, have your yard clean, and go to church; Easter come like Christmas Day….You get that cake and get your dinner cooked, your yard brushed up, it was like how we do it on Saturday… Saturday we used to look out and get our yard brushed up and house cleaned up and …for Sunday, well, we’d do the same thing for Easter.”
Ms. Ermyn reminisced about children in her family receiving Easter baskets filled with boiled and decorated Easter eggs. These were peeled, dipped in salt and pepper and then eaten. They had sandwiches, drinks and cakes to go with them…a kind of little picnic on Easter afternoon.
In the course of their interviews, Ms. Ermyn and Mrs. Olivene, mentioned some superstitions held by some of the old-timers in connection to the Easter season. Both hastened to add that they did not necessarily believe any of these,but were just sharing what they had heard.
Ms. Ermyn referred to these three:
i) Dropping a raw egg white into a glass of water – watch for the pattern or picture. People often claimed they saw a recognisable shape such as a boat.
ii) Someone from Cuba shared that on Easter Friday or Sunday, people would boil an egg and use it to rub and cure aches and pain.
iii) The old people said that on Easter Day the cows kneeled down to worship!!
Mrs. Olivene described the unusual phenomenon of a particular tree sap changing from white to red on Good Friday.
“We had one tree here, the name of it is ‘Physic Nut’ tree… and they say if you cut that tree on Good Friday that the milk out of it would look like blood…They say it’s really true, but I have never tried it, but they say it’s really true because they claim that’s the kind of tree the Lord was crucified on or something like that.”
We hope you have enjoyed reading about our Easter celebrations of yesteryear, through the words and voices of our older folk. As you attend church, camp, boat, go to brunch, and spend time with family and friends, we encourage you to reflect on how our traditions have changed over the years. Wishing all our readers a safe and happy Easter.
Image DI 4819: Little Cayman church congregation 1938.
NOT TO BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE CAYMAN ISLANDS NATIONAL ARCHIVE.