The origins of chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies come from an entanglement of Paganism and Christianity. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it can be agreed upon that both eggs and rabbits symbolize fertility and rebirth. For Christians specifically, an egg represents the empty tomb of Jesus, traditionally wrapped or dyed red to represent the blood of Christ. It is believed that church leaders banned the eating of eggs during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, later giving them to children to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
For Pagans celebrating the Spring Equinox, it goes back to the Scandinavian ‘Ostra’ and the Germanic ‘Ostern’ or ‘Eastre’, their names derived from the mythological goddesses of spring and fertility. All of these goddesses were associated with rabbits, the most potent symbol of fertility and eggs, thought to have magical powers and representing the start of all life.
Our beloved Easter Bunny is thought to have been created in Germany well before the New World arose. Kids believed the rabbit would bring them coloured eggs if they were well behaved, and beautifully decorated eggs were something everyone would look forward to. Depending on the European culture, styles and colours varied. Greeks traditionally made red eggs, Eastern Europeans having more elaborate decorations of gold and silver, while Austrians had beautiful plants like ferns.
It wasn’t until the 19th century when eggs made of chocolate started appearing in France and Germany. These were solid chocolate eggs, until progress in chocolate-making techniques and ultimately, refining how hollow molds were manufactured could be made. Just as real egg decorations varied, so too did chocolate egg variations; the Cadbury Brothers leading the pack with French, Dutch, and German designs adapted to Victorian tastes.
While learning about the history of chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies, I did come across mentions of other animals and objects delivering Easter treats.Take, for example, Switzerland: did you know their eggs are delivered by a cuckoo? Or that some parts of Germany are lucky enough to have a fox deliver their colourful eggs? Perhaps you knew that some Australians prefer to swap a rabbit for a bilby, a little long-eared marsupial native to the land? Another impressive Easter tradition comes from France with the Easter Bells, or les cloches de Pâques. I leave you with the image of silent church bells flying to Rome to be blessed by the Pope and on their return collecting and scattering eggs in French gardens. The bells ring on Easter Sunday announcing their return, the Resurrection, and the Easter egg hunt!