The other day on the way home from Preschool, my five year old piped up with a bunch of questions as usual. “Mummy, How do you know when it is Easter?” “Why is it called Easter?” “Why does a bunny bring the eggs?” “And why do we eat chocolate at Easter?” I was able to give her a simple but satisfactory answer to each of her questions, although I kept on wondering about the last one. We all love to chow down on as much chocolate as possible as Easter, but where does that tradition come from?
Why Easter Eggs?
Although there are religious links between Easter and eggs, there is a general agreement that eggs represent Easter due to spring and fertility rather than a simply religious context. Eggs were historically a fertility symbol in many cultures. The Ancient Romans, the Gauls, the Chinese, the Egyptians and the Persians used the egg as a symbol of rebirth and fertility in rite of spring rituals, including using dyed eggs. Traditionally in Christian history, eggs dyed red at Lent represented the blood of Christ.
In general, spring has traditionally been tied to concepts of new life, rebirth and fertility. Why, spring itself conjures up images of bouncing bunnies, daffodils, butterflies and blossoming trees. A chick emerges from an egg, a clear symbol of spring and new life.
As for bunnies, the Easter Bunny and the Easter egg hunt, was originally a German tradition, which began in the early 17th century. The early German traditions were then introduced to the USA by German settlers in Pennsylvania, who began to spread the Easter Bunny legend and implemented the tradition of creating children’s egg hunts with dyed and decorated eggs.
Why Chocolate Eggs?
There is little evidence to suggest that chocolate was historically related to Easter, or its religious celebrations in early Christian times. Much less so in the form of an egg. However, there are some signs as to how the chocolate Easter Eggs we so enjoy today originated:
During the Christian celebration of Lent, ingredients such as eggs, sugar and butter were forbidden. Many historians believe that this led people in many European countries to celebrate the end of Lent by making and eating chocolate and rich cakes made of these ingredients, which were also given as gifts.
It has been suggested that chocolate eggs were first mass produced in Europe the 18th century. This may have happened as competition for Hot Cross Buns, a popular treat at Easter time in European countries, which were banned from consumption during the lent calendar. Chocolate merchants all over Europe wanted to compete with the popular pastry and took up the idea of a chocolate Easter egg as an alternative. This certainly makes sense considering how Easter eggs, chocolates and treats have become a marketing dream over time and are nowadays an obsession for may at Easter time.
So there you have it! At least now while you enjoy your chocolate this Easter, you can brag you now a little about its origins and history!