FAQ 44: Why do we give Easter Eggs?

FAQ 44: Why do we give Easter Eggs?

Posted by Kylie Suich


The origin story of Easter eggs starts in Medieval Europe, with differing views on it having originated with Christians. Many scholars believe that Easter began as an early Anglo-Saxon festival that celebrated the goddess Eastre and the coming of spring, which was seen as a resurrection of nature after winter.

In Medieval Europe, Easter is usually towards the beginning of spring, a season when plants bloom and animals give birth.  So the end of winter and link to eggs which are an ancient symbol of new life, came together for many pagan festivals.  Some Christian missionaries hoped that celebrating Christian holy days at the same times as pagan festivals would encourage conversion, especially if some of the symbols carried over - in particular the eating of eggs. 

However an alternative view is that eggs at Easter times stems from practicality, when for Christians fasting during Lent were much stricter than they are today. Christians were not allowed to eat meat or any animal product — including cheese, milk, cream or eggs —so they hard-boiled the eggs their chickens would produce during that time, and stored them so they could distribute them later. Lent ends at Easter, so those stored eggs would be given out then (often to the poor, who were unable to afford meat for their celebrations).

The egg has also became a symbol of the Resurrection. It symbolises new life emerging from the eggshell, a metaphor for Jesus rising from the tomb.  Early Christians in Mesopotamia stained hardboiled eggs red to symbolise Christ’s blood, a tradition still practised in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Natural dyes like onion skin and beetroot were used to colour eggs, which were sometimes etched with elaborate patterns.

 

Dying of eggs in British History dates back to 1290, when the household of Edward I bought 450 eggs to be colored or covered in gold leaf to be distributed among “the royal entourage” for Easter. Residents of 13th century English villages brought gifts of Easter eggs to their manorial lords every holiday, and eggs also became what people would give to the church as a special offering on Good Friday. There’s evidence that such eggs were colored — especially red as it is said to signify joy - to be given as gifts in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The earliest Easter Eggs were hen’s or duck’s eggs decorated and painted in bright colours at home with vegetable dye and charcoal. The 17th and 18th Centuries saw the manufacture of egg shaped toys which were given to children at this festival time. The English Victorians had cardboard ‘plush’ and satin covered eggs filled with Easter gifts and chocolates; and they focused on highly decorated larger eggs covered in intricately detailed flowers and other symbols of Spring. 

And now we jump forward to the gifting of chocolate Easter Eggs, which date from the early 19th Century.  Chocolate eggs were being made, by hand literally one by one and it was a time consuming and expensive process. 

For chocolatiers, the market could not expand until a method was found of making the liquid chocolate flow into moulds. After this break through, mass production of hollow chocolate eggs started in the 1873 by British chocolatiers J. S. Fry & Sons, Ltd. 

Then Fry's rivals Rowntree started making them in 1904 , however the American company Mars didn't start making them until 1987.  While Cadbury's official history records their launch in 1905 of the famous Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Egg making a tremendous contribution to the Easter Egg market as it became a very popular chocolate.  [Image below is from the Preston Museum, England]

Now artisan Chocolatiers around the World use lots of different moulds, with simple or very detailed patterns to pour chocolate into and set. They form two halves of the egg, which are joined by hand (with or without a filling added first) to create the egg you enjoy today with the 'join line' smoothed off to create the illusion of a whole egg. 

The chocolate Easter Egg in our main pic is from Birdsnake Chocolate, a bean to bar producer in Melbourne - who released an egg half filled with Strawberry Jam or Hazelnut Gianduja for 2022.  I have some as part of the artisan food Pop Up in the SO:ME space within the middle of the South Melbourne Market I am part of - that ends on Sunday 24th April 2022.  You can came by any trading day to chat artisan chocolate with me - or you can shop online anytime you like.

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