How did Regency clergyman's daughter Jane Austen celebrate Easter?
|As the daughter of a clergyman, Jane Austen would have viewed Easter as a time of special Christian significance.
As an Anglican, Jane would have observed forty days of fasting called Lent. This began with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is a day of confession and absolution and pancakes began to be traditionally eaten on this day as they offered a good way to use up rich foods like eggs, milk and sugar that are forbidden for those observing Lent. Ash Wednesday is a day of prayer and fasting when crosses of ash were drawn on belivers’ foreheads to signify repentance. Lent was a time when the congregation ate a simple diet on all days apart from Sunday in the period up until Easter.
Easter is a movable holiday as its dates are not fixed and change from year to year. The timing of Easter is decided by the first full moon on or after the 21st of March, so it can be any Sunday between the 21st of March and the 25th of April. Easter was the Sunday during a Holy Week in which every day had a religious significance for Christians.
The Easter Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday which commemorates Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey when he was greeted by belivers carrying palm fronds which symbolise victory and peace. Palm Sunday is followed by Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper that Jesus ate with his disciples, the day before he was crucified on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday Jesus was lying in his tomb before he was miraculously resurrected on Easter Sunday. Because of the link between Christ’s resurrection and new dawn, many Christians hold a sunrise service on Easter Sunday. Easter Monday is commonly a Bank Holiday today, although this wouldn’t have been the case in Jane Austen’s time as the Easter Monday Bank Holiday was only introduced in Britain in the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 as a day when banks closed for trade.
After Easter Anglicans continued to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the salvation it brought humanity until Whitsuntide. This period of fifty days is the origin of the Easter Holidays.
Easter and Christmas were some of the only times of the year when clergymen were expected to write their own original sermons. This is commented on in Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice.
Church was also a place for neighbours to socialise. The most famous example of this is in Pride and Prejudice where the Bennets are invited to visit Lady Catherine in the evening on Easter:
‘it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr Darcy they had only seen at church. The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine’s drawing room’ (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 31).