If you’re preparing to lay a table for Easter dinner tomorrow, you’ve probably got the ham in the fridge, and maybe you’ve even gotten dessert put together. But how’s that tablescape coming along?
In early- to mid-twentieth-century America, having an elaborately decorated dining table was becoming a serious business for women of all income levels. The advent of household appliances and the conveniences of city living often meant that women spent less time on housework than their mothers had done. An army of homemaking “experts” stepped in to keep women busy, urging them to create more beautiful dining spaces for their families. By the 1920s, women not only needed an Easter ham; they also needed an Easter centerpiece.
A 1945 New York Times article counselled homemakers to seek out “spring flowers, [and] bunnies and chickens made of plaster, clay, or wax” for their Easter table. But the more budget-minded homemaker might instead have opted for a less-expensive option: the honeycomb paper fold-out, such as this one from the La Crosse County Historical Society’s collection. The paper centerpiece could be folded up and easily stored from year to year, brightening up the Easter table for a fraction of the cost of fresh flowers. Though made of inexpensive materials, mid-century Americans tended to see these honeycomb decorations as collectible rather than disposable, and many have survived.
This centerpiece, with its bright colors and relatively complex design, is similar to those manufactured after World War II by the Beistle Company in Shippensburg, PA. In the 1920s, Beistle Company had introduced America to “honeycomb” paper products, such as large red bells that unfolded for Christmas, or pop-up turkeys to grace the table at Thanksgiving. During World War II, they retooled their machines to make parachutes rather than paper turkeys, but after the war the honeycomb decorations returned with bolder colors and sharper images. Despite being 50 to 70 years old, the bright colors on this centerpiece have hardly faded, and the little bunny could still hold his own on anyone’s Easter table.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.