For some people, Easter is all about chocolate, and given the volume of chocolate Easter eggs on offer in the shops at this time of year, it’s not hard to see why chocolate and Easter go hand in hand.
But Easter hasn’t always been about chocolate eggs. Easter is after all the Christian festival that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The tradition of eggs at Easter
When you think of eggs and Jesus it can be hard to see the link, but in essence, eggs are a symbol of life, and Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life, representing birth and new beginnings, and have been associated with pagan festivals that celebrate spring, for eons. Early Christians adopted eggs as their symbol for the resurrection, on Easter Day, of Jesus Christ.
If you want to delve even further into symbolisation, you could even connect the hard shell of the egg to the stone tomb where Jesus’ body was laid, and when the stone rolled back and Jesus walked out of the tomb, so too does the emerging chick break out of its shell.
The tradition of eating eggs on Easter
Easter is the end of Lent, the six week period of abstinence prior to Easter Sunday, when Christians traditionally refrained from eating any animal products. Eggs in particular were banned by church leaders in the week leading up to Easter.
However, whilst these food stuffs weren’t eaten, the chickens didn’t stop laying the eggs, so rather than let them go to waste, Christians would hard boil the eggs to preserve them, decorate them and give them to children as gifts to be consumed on Easter Day.
Chocolate Easter Eggs
We have the Victorians to thank for turning the simple egg giving ritual into something bigger and showier. They were creative with it, updating the egg gifting tradition. Instead of handing over boiled eggs, Victorians gifted cardboard eggs covered in satin, silk, lace or velvet and packed full of Easter treats.
Chocolate eggs first appeared in Europe in the 19th century, and as chocolate production improved, there was an upsurge in chocolate consumption, and chocolatiers as a result created fragile chocolate eggs shells, decorating them as twist on this archaic religious ritual.
The hollow empty chocolate shells supposedly represent the hollow empty tomb after Jesus rose again.
The first chocolate Easter egg, as we recognise them, was made by chocolatier JS Fry & Son in Bristol in 1873. Fry then merged with Cadbury, and the first Cadbury Easter eggs line was launched in 1875.
The early Cadbury Easter eggs were made of dark chocolate, not the milk chocolate that we all know and love today. These early versions of Easter eggs had plain shells that were decorated with piped icing and chocolate and marzipan flowers.
Today, approximately 90 million Easter eggs are given every year, in the UK alone, and the industry itself is worth an estimated £300m.
The Easter Bunny
So this is where there might be a slight disconnect: Jesus, eggs and chocolate are somewhat explainable, but a bunny that delivers eggs?
Well, rabbits with their rampant reproduction are akin to eggs, in that they too symbolise new life.
The story of the Easter bunny is first documented in the 15th century, but he doesn’t become commonplace until the 19th century. The tale of the Easter bunny goes like this: the Easter bunny lays eggs, then decorates them and hides them, representing new life when they are found. Hence the Easter egg hunt that has become a part of the Easter celebration.