Remember Easter? That most important celebration in the Christian calendar marking the sacrifice and rising from the dead of Jesus.
Ringing any bells?
No? Okay, there’s Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday), Ash Wednesday then 40 days of Lent when you give up something that you enjoy, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
Or am I missing a vital element?
It’s the eggs isn’t it? You’re wondering when all that chocolate comes into it. Well if my mum’s rule is right (and let’s face it, mums are always right), you can have them on the Sunday or Monday.
So is that what it has become? Easter: the second biggest chocolate consuming time of the year.
But how has this happened? When did we put the egg before the resurrection and who can we blame? Tesco? Asda? Lidl?
All of them and none of them it seems.
OUR PAGAN PAST
Easter, unlike our other religious celebrations, is a moveable feast and falls on the third Sunday after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. Which in itself seems a bit odd, giving it a link to our pagan past, you would have thought the Church would prefer to distance itself from that savage part of our history. Not only that, but the name ‘Easter’ comes from the Anglo Saxon goddess of dawn Eostre.
Then of course there is the ever so ancient symbol of fertility and rebirth: the egg.
Pancake Day? When tradition directed you to use up all your eggs and dairy food ready for Lent, so what to do with all those eggs that your chickens continue to lay?
With our Christian/Pagan bond and the new life of Spring and dozens of eggs you are not allowed to eat, it seems like a good idea to decorate them.
And thus the Easter egg tradition is hatched.
CARDBOARD V DIAMONDS
Decorating eggs has been popular since before the Middle Ages and by the 17th and 18th centuries children were being given egg shaped toys at Easter. And of course Carl Fabergé made the now famous jewelled eggs for the Russian Czar in the 19th century.
It was also in the early 19th century that the first solid chocolate eggs started to appear in France and Germany although the chocolate would have tasted quite bitter.
Then in 1828 Dutch inventor Van Houten cracked it when he discovered the method of separating cocoa butter from the bean and in 1842 John Cadbury introduced ‘French eating chocolate’ to Britain.
It was the Victorians who came up with idea of a hollow cardboard egg decorated with silk and ribbon and filled with small gifts and chocolates.
But it was J S Fry of Bristol who made the first chocolate egg in 1873 closely followed by Cadbury’s version in 1875.
By 1893 Cadbury had 19 different lines and in 1905 their Dairy Milk Chocolate bar opened the confectionary floodgates.
The creme filled egg appeared in 1923 and by 1925 J S Fry had 50 and Cadbury 14 brands of chocolates. But they were all aimed very much at the adult consumer.
It was not until the 1950s after World War II rationing had ceased that the chocolate egg market really took off; although decorated cardboard and plastic eggs were still being made at this time.
When the swinging 60s and 70s arrived, Easter had taken on a whole new identity as people’s religious views altered and many started to see it as a welcome Bank Holiday and with the advent of the hollow chocolate shell, Cadbury now targeted a much younger consumer and filled their hollow eggs with chocolate buttons.
The 80s and 90s saw new brightly coloured designs and packaging with ranges to suit all ages and finally in 1987 Mars entered the market.
CADBURY CREME EGG
The UK chocolate Easter egg market is worth over £220 million and it is still the Cadbury Creme Egg that is the most popular with 500 million made each year!
We spend £150 million on shell eggs
£70 million on Cadbury Creme Eggs
£30 million on Cadbury Mini Eggs
So for once it is not the supermarkets that are entirely to blame for our Easter chocolate gluttony and in fact many of them sell them as loss leaders; but our pagan ancestry with its symbolic seasonal rebirth of a chocolate coated Christian celebration.