Easter promise - hopping Easter ideas for your interiors
April celebration is now the third biggest festival on the calendar for home décor
'At Easter, the people go around and collect Easter eggs. They keep those eggs until Easter Sunday and then they cook them. On Easter Sunday morning, some people get up very early to watch the sun dancing. The sun, the moon and seven stars are supposed to dance on that morning. On Good Friday, the people do not look in a mirror because it is supposed to be unlucky."
This little gem of Easter lore was collected by Maureen McArdle, a schoolteacher in Louth, as part of the National Folklore Collection, compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. Then, as now, Easter eggs were big on the agenda, both chocolate eggs and real ones with interesting traditions attached. "Eggs that are laid on Good Friday are put aside to be eaten for Easter Sunday. They are called Good Friday Eggs and anyone who eats one of these eggs will not be sick the whole year through." There's no mention in the archive of the Easter bunny.
Turns out, he's an immigrant. And he's not a bunny - he's a dignified German hare. The tradition of an egg-laying hare travelled from Germany to America, where it surfaced in the 18th century amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch. The hare was a bit like Santa Claus. The children made a nest for him to lay his coloured eggs, where they'd find them on Easter morning (but only if they were good). It's a gorgeous tradition and, naturally, it spread across America. By the time it came to Ireland, the egg-laying hare had morphed into a bunny carrying a basket of chocolate eggs.
Irish Easter celebrations are rich in tradition, but until about 10 years ago, we didn't place a great deal of emphasis on decorating the home. Now all that has changed. For home décor, Easter is now the third biggest festival on the calendar (Christmas is the main one, closely followed by Halloween).
In my opinion, credit goes to the German supermarkets. Lidl and Aldi, take a bow! From early springtime, the middle aisle of both these stores is stacked with pretty Easter stuff. Some of it is kitsch (I adore Easter kitsch). Some of it is edible. Some of it is DIY.
Last year, I found brightly coloured dyes that you can use to make coloured hard boiled eggs! Massive messy fun. But even if these low-cost decorations are not to your taste, they're enough to make you think: "Let's get decorating for Easter." More recently, Irish stalwarts like Dunnes have got in on the game. Exhibit A: an LED egg tree (€10). Exhibit B: Découpage egg bunnies (€4). These are like Christmas tree baubles, but egg shaped with rabbit themed décor and so delicately done that you'd wonder how they can make them for that price. Exhibit C: Carrot bunting (€8). Apparently that's because the Easter bunny likes carrots. There are also more sensible, and most lasting, seasonal offerings from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic and Helen James. Their tableware is the kind of thing that you might buy for Easter and use for the rest of the year. Or - and back to frippery - UK brand Ginger Ray has orange and green paper napkins that you can roll into carrot shapes to decorate the table for Easter lunch.
"Texture and scale are the two most important elements for a successful tablescape," says Lesiele Juliet. She's an interior designer and stylist, born in New Zealand with Polynesian heritage - that's where her beautiful name comes from - and now married to an Irish man. Five years living in Ireland have taught her the crucial cultural role of the Easter lunch.
Fresh flowers are a vital part of an Easter table setting. "Native and wild is best, so try foraging from the hedgerow or your own garden. Remember that texture and shade are key to a good floral selection, so look for rough, spiky, soft and feathery textures and varying shades of colour. Then go loose and a little undone with your table linens - French linen napkins on a raw wooden table top for are fine for lunch, but always dress the table for dinner!" Crystal glassware can be used as candleholders, but using varying heights for interest.
When it comes to pattern, Juliet is all for the matchimalist approach. Matchimalism, if you're not familiar with the term, is "maximalism that matches" and usually achieved with multiple versions of the same print. Yikes! Looking back, I realise that I have accidentally achieved matchimalism on many occasions, due to my misguided love of Easter kitsch. The results were horrendous. Kind family members rescued the tablescape by removing most of it and we were using the surplus Easter napkins until Halloween.
But then, I'm not a natural stylist. If you are, by all means give it a lash. "Try varying shades and patterns of blue, such as blue china, an indigo tablecloth, and sky blue glassware," Juliet suggests. In terms of colour, she feels that pastels and Easter go hand in hand, and work well in paring with a zesty analogue colour combination. "Pastel green with teal blue or, my ultimate colour combination, pastel pink and bright orange."
There are a few larger Easter items around and my favourite, by a hop, skip and a jump, is the Rabbit Chair. This is a chair in the shape of a rabbit. It's 80cm high, made of plastic, and designed by Stefano Giovannoni for Qeeboo.
The idea is that you sit on the back of the bunny and lean against its ears. Or you can ride it like a pony. Frankly, I'd be surprised if it was comfortable, but I don't think that's really the point. It's gloriously good fun. Stockists are various; I discovered it through Smithers of Stamford where it costs €207.37, but you can also buy from Qeeboo, where it comes in velvet flock (€299) and a super-luxurious metallic finish (€1,200). There is even a glow-in-the-dark option that lights up like a lamp (€239).
Or you can just wake up early enough to watch the sun dancing. Hoppy Easter!
See dunnesstores.com, smithersofstamford.com, qeeboo.com and @lesielejulietstylist.
TWIST AND SHOUT
The Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic range for Dunnes is moving from extrovert accessories into fairly serious pieces of furniture like this Weave Lounger (€250). It sits nicely with a woven side table (€150) in the same range. See dunnesstores.com.
COOL FOR CATS
Good graphics (especially the upside down cat) bring a bit of character to a straightforward set of egg cups. They come in a boxed set of four and would make a great gift for someone who loves cats (€15.14 from annabeljames.co.uk).
Homesense is a great place to browse for bits and pieces for the Easter table. They tend towards the tasteful, rather than kitsch, with pieces that can be put away for next year. This egg-and-candle centrepiece costs €9.32 (for stores, see homesense.ie).
Remember when Christmas wreathes were a novelty? Now you can buy front-door decorations for every conceivable festival. And why wouldn't you? This pretty bunny wreath costs €19.82 from TK Maxx (for stores, see tkmaxx.ie).
This little table lamp (40cm high) is a bargain from Søstrene Grene. It's made in ceramic with a fabric shade and comes in three choices of colour - all of which would fit in anywhere. It costs €16.58 (find your nearest shop on sostrenegrene.com).