Easter this year brings a renewal of faith that there is light after the darkness, calm after the storm.

For the first time in a year, my church is opening its doors to our congregation and I am looking forward to worshiping within that special place.

Along with anticipation of this year’s sacred gathering, as I think of this special day I am reminded of the Easters of my years growing up in Canton.

Life was more monotonous back then, which made the holidays much more kaleidoscopic, filled with a colorful array of traditions that helped break away from winter and celebrate the promise of new life.

I remember the stretch from Christmas to Easter as long and dreary. There were no other holidays that I recall from the daily routine of class at Canton Elementary during those months, no winter break. We rarely traveled out of Cherokee County except to visit relatives for the day or the occasional trip to Atlanta as an outing.

As Easter approached, we knew that we would be getting new shoes and a new church outfit complete with a hat. I grew up with so much less than we enjoy today and going shopping for those new clothes was a momentous occasion.

Back then Jones Mercantile and Rosenblum’s vied to be the place to choose new dresses in downtown Canton. My family tended to favor Jones store as my father worked for the mill, which was also owned by the Jones family.

I think my mother did most of the choosing of what we would wear when I was younger, but I do remember picking out pretty, lacy dresses with full crinolines and sashes to wear on Easter Sunday. I loved the organdy and dotted Swiss fabrics, the feel and crispness of the fabric.

And then of course, there were the hats. Back then most people wore hats on a regular basis to church.

My mother preferred the popular pill boxes or simple styles, but she let us choose wide brimmed hats decorated with flowers and ribbon.

Worley’s Shoes was the place to go for new shoes. Occupying the corner where the Hasty, Pope law firm is now, that shoe store was a major Canton landmark. I remember getting a golden egg when we bought a new pair of shoes.

But the place to really dream about Easter was Kessler’s store right across the street. That big, cavernous five and dime store was a treasure trove for children and young people. From the display of 45 records and the popcorn machine that greeted you when you came in the door off Main Street to the Toyland in the back of the downstairs that opened onto North Street, it was a paradise for young people. I am really not sure what the Easter bunny would bring most years, but when I was about 10 years old my father went to Kessler’s and bought us these huge Easter baskets already made up with bunnies and candy.

I am sure we had probably dragged him through there on trips downtown to show him these marvels. And I am sure they probably cost more than he wanted to spend on those baskets, but that memory is so strong and special for me. My sister still has her Easter basket she got that year way back in the 1960s.

But my most vivid memory of Easter is the sanctuary of First Baptist Church. On Easter Sunday the church was full as it never was any other day in the year.

I was one of those children who never missed a Sunday, and it was a mystery to me where all the other people came from, but the air of excitement was stupendous on that glorious morning in Canton.

There was no air conditioning back then at the church, or really anywhere else. So the church was packed, and if it was warm the windows were open.

Along the sides of the sanctuary there were Sunday School classrooms with large glass partitions that could be opened to the auditorium, and on that one day they were thrown open and filled with the overflow crowd. It seemed to me that everyone in town was crammed in to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

This year, we may be socially distanced at my church, the crowd may be thinner, and we may have on masks instead of hats and new dresses. But the spirit of thanksgiving and worship will be stronger than ever, and that is what Easter is really all about.

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Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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