Easter’s Best: 7 Southern Traditions

From egg-laying bunnies to a cheese-centric spread, here are seven staples of a Southern celebration.
by Hampton Williams Hofer

It’s the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox, when Southerners who celebrate the resurrection will do some reviving of their own — of the good china and the summer whites. Vases of lilies on dining room tables will spill into heirloom bowls of dyed eggs that match the sky for a sunrise Hallelujah. From bunnies to bows, Easter brims with traditions, logic not being one of them. Here are seven staples of a Southern Easter. 

The egg-laying bunny

It’s a perplexing science, the machinations of the Osterhase. We can blame the Germans, who brought the legendary rabbit into American tradition in the 1700s as a symbol of fertility. By the time the tulips are up, this bunny proliferates on tables, mantels and front porches — and on a pink bench at the mall, wide-eyed and big-eared for a frightening little photo op. 

Treat-filled baskets

By dawn on Easter Sunday, the children will discover their baskets. Cadbury eggs and fluffy stuffed bunnies sit in nests of crinkled-paper grass, sometimes accented with Peeps and bubble wands. There could even be a real bunny, twitching its nose in the hands of a parent who will surely regret it. 

An Easter egg hunt

Dressed like little pilgrims in their collars and knee socks, the children will grip their baskets for the countdown, then shoot off into the azaleas, prowling for flashes of neon. Jesus may be risen, but the pansies won’t be coming back from that stampede of saddle oxfords. It’s a centuries-old Eastertide festivity, with eggs symbolizing rebirth. Born of these eggs, however, will be jelly beans and Hershey’s Kisses, softened into a collar-ruining goop.

White shoes before Memorial Day

Donning one’s Easter best has been a thing since the times of bonnets, gloves and satin ribbon. Those newly pressed dresses and suits turn the church courtyard into Southern Fashion Week — and render even relatives unrecognizable. (Is that Cousin Jane under the yellow fascinator?) 

A hearty spread on a pastel tablescape

The dishes will be heavy with mayonnaise and irony (see: deviled eggs). Expect cheese (straws, pimento), brown-sugar glazed ham, cold broccoli salad, buttermilk drop biscuits and, historically, lamb (a sacrifice as ironic as the name Good Friday). Slide the carrot cake over to that uncle who gave up dessert for Lent. 

Another egg hunt

Oh, you thought you were finished? There will be egg hunts at school, at birthday parties and on every stretch of green from the golf course to your neighbor’s narrow side-yard — so many hunts that you think surely the children will succumb to apathy. They will not. There will be egg hunts even in your dreams, full of frenzy, candy and an occasional busted lip. 

One breathtaking moment at church

When I watch my children stand and run their fingers along the hymnal under the lyrics of Welcome, Happy Morning!, I remember that beneath the bows and frills and chocolate-stained fingers lies the enormity of what the holiday actually celebrates: the renewal of hope. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.