Glorious Påske memories from New York
Celebrating Easter in the Norwegian colony of Brooklyn
Easter is a glorious time: the nearly balmy temperatures, beaming daffodils, pungent hyacinths, and swelling birdsong embody anticipation. The air is charged with change.
Indeed, Easter is intertwined with this most opportune time—and there is no better place to experience this spring holiday than Bay Ridge Brooklyn with its plethora of gardens, stately tree-lined streets, abundance of parks and fresh sea air. I asked a variety of people who grew up in the area about their Easter memories. What they shared follows—enjoy!
Lois Berseth Hedlund, 1940s
I grew up in [the] Bethelship Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church on 56th Street and Fourth Avenue, in what was then called Bay Ridge (later called Sunset Park). Sunday School was at 9:30 a.m. and church was at 11 a.m.
The Methodist Church is “low church,” so I don’t remember any Holy Thursday or Good Friday services, but I remember special services on both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
As a little kid, we, of course, dressed in our new Easter coat, bonnet, and shoes—it didn’t matter what the weather was—that was our outfit! As a teenager, we either got a new Easter suit or a new spring “topper”—a waist-length coat in pale spring colors and, of course, an Easter bonnet!
On Easter Sunday, the church was decorated with Easter lilies donated by families in memory of those who had gone before us.
In my family, on Easter Sunday, we usually returned to our home for the regular Sunday dinner, but on Easter Sunday it would be either ham or lamb; no need for dessert, because we had received a chocolate Easter bunny and a basket full of jellybeans and other candies.
[Note: Norwegians in the colony were not ONLY Lutheran; they built and attended churches from a variety of denominations.]
Elaine Breiland, 1950s
One Easter, in the early 1950s, I was given a pink sleeping stuffed bunny with a plastic face by my favorite aunt. This bunny is now beside me on my night table.
I have many happy memories of my Easters with my family, getting all sorts of chocolates and the panoramic Easter egg. On Monday morning, my sister and I would keep the eggs and place all the chocolates in bags and go to the Norwegian Children’s Home on 84th Street. The woman thanked us, saying the children would enjoy the treats after dinner. We were very blessed.
Arnie Bergman, 1940s
My recollections were getting a new suit at the Robert Hall clothing store on 64th Street and Fourth Avenue, not every year, possibly every other year. And getting a chocolate Easter bunny, either from a candy store or ice cream parlor.
One year, I unwrapped the bunny from the cellophane wrapping and played with it for a week and then gave it to my aunt who lived upstairs. I’m quite sure that bunny got tossed out. I believe that was the only Easter I didn’t eat the bunny. I must have had the chocolate eggs and little marshmallow chickens that year to consume instead.
Eleanor Jensen, 1940s
I, too, remember how special Easter was and still is. We all had beautiful new outfits, including lovely colorful flowered hats and matching gloves.
After church we would go home and have our Easter dinner. Then my friends, Arline, Turid, and others would take the bus down to Prospect Park to visit the large greenhouse to see the huge Easter cross made entirely of Easter lilies. It was magnificent, and I will never forget it. After taking the bus back to Eighth Avenue, we would stop into Dodenhoff’s Ice Cream Parlor for one of “Doddie’s” homemade ice cream treats. We will all remember the special times we enjoyed with our friends from 60th Street and 59th Street Church. Happy Easter from Ellie!
Ellen Williumsen Ryen, 1950s
My memories are not really related to being Brooklyn Norwegian; it was my American celebration. The Easter basket with the chocolate bunny and candies was the highlight of the day as a child. Getting a new spring coat or dress and an Easter bonnet or new shoes and handbag were also so important for that day. It was exciting to wake up on that Sunday and wear the new clothes, go to church, and sing my favorite hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Very happy memories for me.
Sylvia Reich, 1950s
I have a distinct childhood Easter memory. The excitement I felt leading up to Easter Sunday because I knew my father was going to Seebodes Ice Cream Parlor on Fifth Avenue, Sunset Park [formerly Bay Ridge], to buy a tall, delicious chocolate bunny for me. As if that wasn’t enough candy, my older sister, Elsie, would give me an Easter basket filled with chocolate eggs!
After church service at Trinity Lutheran and my father taking pictures of my sister and me in our new Easter outfits, my mother made the traditional baked ham supper. We always had more than one dessert and an egg-shaped cake from Olsen’s Baker, and my mother made the strawberry fromasj and Norwegian cookies.
Lagertha Aslaug, 1960s and 1970s
Making Easter eggs was always fun. My mother was very creative, and she made me an Easter egg tree before I could speak. She would hollow out the eggs before she colored them and add lovely ribbons of lilac, spring green, and fuchsia, placing them on branches that resembled a small tree. She had fixed the branches in a nice bucket filled with plaster of Paris. This was in the early 1960s.
I still create an Easter egg tree each year, with great pleasure. And when my daughter was born, I took the idea of decorated branches to my infant’s bedroom. I hung a lovely-shaped bough high over her crib, filling the branches with keepsakes, a nod to my mother’s Easter egg tree.
I have adolescent memories of the many ice cream parlors that spanned the neighborhood; the sound of your steps on the tiled floors, the reflections in the polished granite counters, soda fountains shaped like cranes and homemade ice cream. But best was the Easter holiday candy they produced and displayed in rows and rows of sweet, seductive delights that marked the coming holiday.
Seebodes was down the block from my mormor’s house on 51st Street. Chocolate rabbits of assorted sizes, poses, and decorative icing, filled the space. They even made white chocolate bunnies (which I loved as a kid), but I was most intrigued by their sugar eggs that held a candy-colored world inside: spring scenes with chicks or swans, grass, and tall trees, ponds, and skies. You had to peer inside the small oval opening, a kaleidoscope of surprise and wonder. You were never sure what treasure each would hold. To this day, I love these panoramic eggs.
It’s fun to read these reminiscences of glorious Easters past and to learn more about Norwegian-American Easter traditions, whether religious, cultural, or familial. I would offer another way to benefit from these musings. Why not take one or two of these and add them to your own Easter celebration? They will add meaning to your holiday. With so many fondly recalling customs celebrated decades ago, we know that they are tested, tried, and true rituals to be cherished.
A blessed Easter to you and yours! God påske!
This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.