Whilst the chocolate Easter egg is a relatively new tradition the origin of the Easter egg, and many more modern-day Easter symbols, such as the Easter bunny, goes back a very long way and pre-date Christianity. The historical intermingling of pagan, Christian and Jewish beliefs and practices has left its legacy in many of the things we maybe take for granted about Easter and its traditions today.
Eggs are a potent symbol of life, renewal and rebirth dating back millennia.
Easter comes near to the time of the spring equinox on 21 March, when the length of the day and night are equal. Throughout history, many ancient cultures have celebrated this as a time of birth and renewal, following the darkness of the long winter. Some of these cultures use to bury coloured eggs symbolizing the hope for bountiful crops and new, colourful flora in the coming year. The bunny symbolizes new life due to its reproduction prowess. They called it Eostre, named after that goddess,
Historians have traced the origin of the word Easter to the Scandinavian word 'Ostra' and the Germanic 'Ostern' or 'Eastre'. Both of these derive from the names of mythological goddesses of spring and fertility, for whom festivals were held at the time of the Spring Equinox.
The egg was adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. The hard shell of the egg represents the tomb and the emerging chick represents Jesus, whose resurrection conquered death. The tradition of eating eggs on Easter is tied to Lent, the six-week period before Easter during which Christians traditionally abstained from all animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs.
Since chickens continue to lay eggs throughout Lent, people would hard boil the eggs, decorate them and save them for Easter. The modern tradition of eating chocolate eggs at Easter is a fun, kid-friendly twist on this ancient religious ritual, which originated in Europe during the early-19th century
The chocolate Easter egg has developed from the simple type wrapped in paper to the wide variety wrapped in the brightest foil and packed in a box or basket.
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in Europe in the early 19th Century with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. A type of eating chocolate had been invented a few years earlier, but it could not be successfully moulded. Some early eggs were solid while the production of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been rather painstaking as the moulds were lined with paste chocolate one at a time!
John Cadbury made his first 'French eating Chocolate' in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made, two years after the first chocolate egg was ideated by J.S. Fry & Sons of England.
Progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was very slow until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The earliest chocolate eggs were made of dark bitter chocolate with a plain smooth surface and were filled with dragees.
The launch in 1905 of the famous Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate made a tremendous contribution to the Easter egg market. The popularity of this new kind of chocolate vastly increased sales of Easter eggs and did much to establish them as seasonal best sellers. Today the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.
Modern-day pagans continue to celebrate the coming of spring as part of a seasonal cycle known as the 'wheel of the year'. Some pagans carry out rituals at this time, such as symbolically planting seeds, and holding egg races and egg hunts.
Whatever your beliefs, Easter today represents a time for the celebration of new life, spring and fertility. The giving of decorated Easter eggs and gifts, the Easter egg hunts, familiar images of young bunnies and chicks. They all combine many of the age-old customs so we can each enjoy in our own way, no matter how big or small the gesture.
Some interesting links
- Our Wolols Easter Special crafts and more.