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The Story of the Easter Egg

Decorated eggs and the consumption of their chocolate counterparts have become the overriding symbol of Easter, synonymous with the perceived role of Santa Claus during Christmas. However, how has this become so? Is there a reason behind it that justifies or explains Easter eggs for the holiest date in the Christian calendar, or is there a more cynical reason behind the mass advertisement and custom of giving and receiving Easter eggs that is now common place and exploited by corporations? Thankfully, the answer is a mix of traditional beliefs and a modernisation in lieu of practicalities – like edible chocolate!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Eggs have for a long time been a symbol of fertility and rebirth, understandable as many chicks and other animals enter the world through the crack of an egg shell during early spring. In Christianity, during the season of Eastertide, eggs are seen to symbolise the empty tomb of Jesus when he was resurrected. So, where the shell of the egg is meant to be like the stone tomb, the hatching of life from within the egg is a reminder of when Jesus rose from the grave (out of the tomb), thus showing that there is life after death.

Before Easter eggs became delicious chocolate eggs that you would buy at your local supermarket, they were real eggs; often chicken eggs that, in the oldest traditions, were painted and dyed. In fact, the early Christians of Mesopotamia stained eggs in red, in memory of the blood of Christ that was shed at his crucifixion. Thereafter, the Christian Church officially adopted the custom and regarded the eggs as a symbol of resurrection.

Image courtesy of pleasantpointinn

However, eggs have been symbolic and laced with meaning throughout history, not just in Christianity. Dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and the Zoroastrians in Persia who all dyed eggs to celebrate the start of spring; they have been a symbol in numerous cultures. And looking at present cultural examples, in China eggs are dyed when a newborn enters the world – in celebration of the auspicious occasion of birth and an acknowledgment of life, too.

Having established that there is a compelling reason as to why eggs are indeed the symbol of Easter, the modern custom has substituted the decoration of actual eggs, to a consumable alternative – one of chocolate eggs. This initially sprung from the 17th and 18th centuries that saw the manufacture of egg-shaped toys for children. At first, the Victorians would cover eggs with cardboard, satin and other such materials and fill them with Easter gifts and chocolates. However, it was not until the mid-1800s that the first chocolate Easter eggs were painstakingly made.

Image courtesy of Lee McCoy

The first was made in Germany with a lot of chocolate paste used to sculpt it. But the Dutch invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from a cocoa bean in 1842, coupled with the introduction of pure cocoa by Cadbury Brothers (yes, that Cadburys) in 1866 made it possible to mould chocolate into any shape, as it allowed the chocolate to flow into the mould and harden into an egg shape. And so was created the chocolate Easter egg!

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