By Rita Maisel
A part of this week’s column came from a question about traditional Easter sunrise services in Langdon. Some could not remember them, and others wondered why they had been discontinued. I am not sure they have been discontinued, but with several local congregations sharing pastors, a few area churches have a virtual “sunrise” service every week.
As a small child I remember an Easter sunrise service was usually held at the Presbyterian Church in Langdon. My mother would hurry us along for the walk from the hill to the church bundled in winter clothes, mittens, scarves and boots. It may have been the youth in charge of the service in those days as I remember some of our teenage neighbors and Marjorie Dick in the program. One of the reasons Marjorie is remembered is she was very musical and played a trumpet. Whether the number she played for sunrise services was “The Holy City” or not, that number was a favorite at many churches during the Easter season. A favorite for the regular Sunday morning was often “Up from the Grave He Arose”. After the early service we would go home for breakfast and return later for Sunday school and the second service of the day. Yes, at the second service everyone wore their best or newest dresses, and almost everyone had a hat unless it was a stormy or windy day.
Magically the Easter bunny would arrive at our house while we were at church since two of my aunts stayed home from the early service. The traditional Easter baskets stored the rest of the year in the back of a cupboard were now filled with Easter treats and a large china egg, which had been a gift to my grandmother years before, were set out on the dining room table to be “discovered” between the services. As very young children we also had embroidered rabbit bibs which came out only on Easter, and one aunt had made a rabbit apron that I wore for a couple of Easters before younger cousins claimed it as theirs. In those days we did not often have company on Easter as North Dakota roads could fill rapidly with snow and prevent relatives from getting into town.
Easter cantatas were a special treat sometimes held at the Presbyterian and sometimes at the Methodist Church. One year the choirs merged with other area singers and put on “The Messiah” at the Masonic Temple. Lutheran choirs joined in after their churches organized in Langdon in the late 1940s or early 1950s with musical evenings of their own. Today the choirs perform on Palm Sunday and include all groups or soloists who are willing to sing and are enjoyed by all.
One teenage sunrise service was held at the old EUB church and because roads could be closed on Easter, it became my turn to play the piano with the stipulation that I must learn “The Holy City”. Apparently, the song was part of a little play the other members of the youth group were putting on. Practicing on a pump organ and then playing the song on a piano was difficult at best, primarily because my piano teacher had given up on me after a year of lessons long before that date. There were many comments after the service (none good), and most suggested that I never play the song again. It took 65 years before a visitor in Langdon begged for that song, and both of us realized my skill had not improved with time.
In the early 1970s younger cousins were active in the youth group at church and planning a sunrise service with maybe a breakfast to follow. My cousins and their friends were in Home Ec at the time. Their teacher had given them an idea for a centerpiece they could make, possibly for extra credit. This masterpiece would be an egg tree featuring decorated blown eggs. There is a vague memory of samples on display in possibly Langdon Floral or maybe in the window of the jewelry store. Their efforts at blowing the eggs can best be described as messy. Looking for help, they asked my second grade students take part in this adventure. That was also unsuccessful, but a group of teachers did manage to create the shells they wanted which were decorated with ribbons, sequins, glitter and other embellishments. The delicate tree did not survive for a second Easter.
Working in Denver for a number of years, I had heard about the Easter Sunrise observance at the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. My brother was working in Colorado Springs so we went to join the celebration along with many people from all over Colorado and even guests from distant places. Parking was limited, and most began the walk to the Garden while it was still very dark and then, wrapped in blankets, sat on the ground to await the service. It was a very special occasion, and after we thawed out, we were very happy to have attended. That service has been an annual event for many years.
In the church I attended in Denver they celebrated Easter by turning the narthex of the church into a garden. The pastor’s wife loved birds and had a canary or two in her home. She also had friends with birds who brought their birds to the church in cages and set them up behind or near branches of flowering trees and, of course, many Easter lilies. In those days people were not allergic to the lilies. When the service music began the birds began to sing! It was truly a glorious sound as they seemed to sing every note right along with the congregation. To add to the festivity, flower-covered hats were worn by many of the ladies in the church which spread the garden atmosphere into the pews as well.
One of the last Easter Sunrise services I remember attending was put on by a youth group at the Langdon United Methodist Church maybe 20 or 25 years ago. It featured a coffin borrowed for the occasion from the funeral home, and while all attending remember that, no one seems to remember who participated. As in the original Easter story, the coffin was empty. Some are sure that the butterfly banner, a symbol of the Resurrection, was dedicated that day and has been displayed for many Easter seasons since that time.
What did we eat on Easter? I do remember eating the eggs we had dyed and decorated before Easter as part of the menu Easter Sunday but do not remember a typical Easter menu from childhood. Hot cross buns have always been a favorite for Good Friday, and there are memories of a fruit bread for Easter served as a treat. In more recent days there are memories of ham as a centerpiece often served with spring fruits that might not have been available during the winter months.
The practice of egg rolling is said to have come from England where snow melts early and lawns are green. That became the egg hunts that were held at the White House in some administrations—some say they began with Teddy Roosevelt’s children, and others think the idea originated with Jaqueline Kennedy. Whenever that began, the idea migrated rapidly to every corner of America as well. I do not remember community egg hunts when I was small or in places where I worked or taught. The internet says the practice began in the 1500s in Europe and most egg hunts were held at churches. Eggs are a symbol of new life and appropriate as a symbol of the resurrection. There was a side link to Denver in that article so being curious about a custom that was not widely known when I was teaching Sunday School in the Denver area, I followed the link. This year Denver churches are advertising 44 FREE Egg Hunts for children. Parents who attend will be charged $3 each. Most will be held at churches in a wide area. Langdon’s Community Egg Hunt is held at United Lutheran, and there may be additional hunts at other Langdon churches on Easter morning. Keep your eyes open. There may be eggs hidden near your pew intended for your enjoyment. Happy Easter!