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Hope Chests Are For Hopes And Dreams

Updated on April 21, 2011

Hope Chest Traditions

The hope chest is a symbol of tradition.

From the ornate "cassone" of Renaissance Italy, to the plain, pine chest that traveled with the American Settlers, these treasured pieces of furniture have held hopes, dreams and mementos for young girls venturing forth into womanhood.

Hope chest, cedar chest, dowry chest, glory box; the contents were a trousseau of blankets and linens, wedding gowns and teacups; anything that might be necessary for marriage. They were often handed down from a mother, or another female member of the family, for the tradition to be carried on down the line. Some families couldn't afford a "store-bought" chest, and a father might make one just as treasured, out of his woodworking skills, or the young woman would simply use the bottom drawer of a dresser for her treasures.


Functional Cedar Chests For Precious Wares

Although these chests might be made out of pine, oak, teak, and even wicker, the traditional chest is lined with cedar due to it's ability to repel insects and fungus. If you happen to have grown up with a cedar chest in your home, you will forever remember the smell of cedar as a quilt was pulled out of the chest to cover a visitor who was staying the night.

My favorite part of my mother's hope chest was the "till", or shelf that extended out from the lid as it was opened. This special area held my grandmother's promise ring from my grandfather; as well as other pieces of jewelry, and old tattered black and white photos from the old days of using six horses to pull hay laded wagons. There were tufts of hair tied with ribbon, and hand-made aprons from home back in Finland.

Sweet Sixteen Hope Chest

The tradition has been to give a hope chest to a young woman on her 16th birthday. The tradition continues today, but the real popularity faded in the 1950's. My three sisters, and myself all received a cedar chest on our 16th birthday, giving our memories and quilts a home until they are also passed down.

I love the idea that some girls are still tucking their childhood teddy bears away for the baby they'll have one day; and wrapping their mom's bridal veil in tissue, for the day they may walk down the isle wearing it. Some of the saved treasures almost seem silly when you pull them out many years later, and some you don't even remember saving, but, they all have that same wonderful cedar smell that takes you back to nights spent at Grandma's house, sleeping under that old quilt.


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    • lindajot profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Willamette Valley - Oregon

      There are so many questions in my own hope chest, of items passed down and speculations on who spent hours on beautiful pieces. I'm thrilled that others have precious pieces to pass on, whether they are extraordinary or simple. Thank you for the input!

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      8 years ago

      My grandmother's hope chest, from Italy, contains beautiful linens, and it is obvious that some were done by an inexperienced child while others are quite extraordinary. Could this all have been the work of my grandmother, at stages in her single life, or would family members also embroider items for a hope chest?

    • lindajot profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Willamette Valley - Oregon

      ruffridyer, thank you for the comment. I can see where it would be a difficult sell on the China. Many of the old traditions have certainly faded away - I have two boys, but, even their wives aren't too interested in having either my hopechest, or the one handed down from my grandmother. Ah well, times change. Thanks again!

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      An informative hub. I worked for a company trying to sell china to young girls for their hope chests. This was in 1986. I thought it was a stupid sales pitch since girls didn't have hope chests anymore.


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