Easter as we know it today combines a pretty wide range of themes, icons, and symbols. And although an egg-laying rabbit, a prophet rising from the dead, and chocolate wouldn’t otherwise be common bedfellows, during Easter they are each celebrated with equal joy and reverence.
But why? Why do we celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs? Well, the exact story is hard to follow because of all the intersecting interests. But let’s take a look at them anyways and try to sort it out.
First, when is Easter?
You might have noticed that Easter is never on the same day as the year before. That’s because Easter falls on the first Sunday after the Full Moon that falls on or after March 21, which is why the date moves around year after year.
And while Easter technically marks the Christian beliefs of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there are also pagan and Wiccan symbols as well as German folklore and a healthy dose of modern marketing mixed within. This mishmash means that there’s something for everyone to latch on to.
But back to our original question: Why do we celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs?
In ancient and pagan traditions, eggs are a symbol of fertility and new life. Wiccans would bury colored eggs, which was an offering for bountiful crops and a healthy, fruitful Spring in the coming year. To them, the bunny also symbolized fertility and new life due to its aptitude in reproduction. The Wiccans called the time and the traditions Eostre, named after the goddess of fertility and rebirth.
Christians also adopted the egg as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. The hard outer shell of the egg represents the cave/tomb Jesus was laid to rest in, and the emerging chick represents Jesus’ rising and conquering death.
The tradition of eating eggs on Easter is also tied to Lent, another timeframe recognized by Christians. This is the six-week period leading up to Easter during which Christians traditionally abstain from all animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs.
As chickens continue to lay eggs throughout the Lenten period, people would still collect them, hard boil them, decorate them and save them for Easter. It’s easy to see why eggs resemble birth and the beginning of a new cycle and why they are rich in meaning for a variety of people.
But… why do we eat chocolate eggs?
It is a bit of a leap (or a bunnyhop?) to get from that humble Christian tradition to the chocolate-filled frenzy that we know as Easter today. In fact, Easter is the second biggest marketing and candy consumer-driven holiday after Halloween.
According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants. When the US was opening up to European countries, the settlers brought with them their cultures, traditions, and folklore.
The Germans who settled in Pennsylvania transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” As the story goes, children were encouraged to make small nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the country (and then the world), shapeshifting along the way.
Over time and with the rise of chocolate as an accessible and beloved treat, the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning eggs expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts. Someone somewhere began hiding chocolate eggs and encouraging the children to find them (it definitely keeps the kids occupied for a while), while decorated baskets replaced nests.
Add in the rise of marketing and the proliferation of the candy industry, chocolate Easter eggs have a firm hold on the lives and imaginations of children today. Chocolate eggs have supplanted the holier themes of the holiday and some of the chocolate treats associated with Easter are eagerly awaited all year long.
Like we mentioned, Easter seems to be a cross-section of a bunch of different traditions and cultures that have intersected to become the pastel-colored celebration we know today. There are other activities associated with the day, like an Easter egg roll where people hard boil eggs and decorate them using food coloring and other dyes.
Then they take their eggs to the top of a hill and roll them down, trying to roll their egg the furthest down the hill without it smashing or cracking. Even the White House makes this a big annual event that a few lucky children get to participate in every year.
There are also Easter parades, the most exciting and famous of which takes place in New York City. Onlookers and participants often wear elaborately decorated bonnets, fascinators, and hats. This too is aligned with the Christian Easter processions where believers recognize that Stations of the Cross that lead up to Jesus death, three days before his rising
As you can see, all of the symbols and themes of the holiday, even though they come from different cultures and have different stories behind them, kind of meet together in a Spring-time renewal. Whatever your belief, there is something exciting about the smell of Spring in the air, and Easter with its chocolate eggs and fun (or somber) activities.
Chocolate is often a great unifier and universally loved treat, so it’s no surprise it has firmly become a symbol of this holiday. Around 80 million chocolate Easter eggs are sold each year, which is a staggering number. The first chocolate Easter egg was produced in 1873 by Fry’s. John Cadbury of Cadbury Chocolate soon followed suit and made his first Cadbury Easter egg in 1875. The rest is history.
Chocolate Easter eggs have taken over the world, bringing joy to people everywhere. No complaints from us, chocolate is a great way to savor a day and celebrate a moment.