Easter without chocolate eggs would be like Christmas without presents. Simply unthinkable! And yet the tradition of giving chocolate at Easter is relatively recent, dating back 120 years or so to the late nineteenth century.
Easter is a Christian festival that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Occurring in Spring, which is regarded as a time of renewal and birth by many faiths and cultures, the egg has been used as a symbol of birth and fertility since well before Christianity.
Originally painted bright colours to celebrate the sunlight of spring, decorating and colouring eggs became popular during the Middle Ages, when they were dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ. Forbidden as a food during Lent, eggs were hard-boiled, decorated and then given to children at Easter as good luck symbols.
In the eighteenth century, pasteboard or papier mache eggs with small gifts inside became popular and by the nineteenth century these had evolved into cardboard eggs covered in silk, lace or velvet and fastened with ribbon. Faberge produced its first egg in 1883, and elaborate eggs made from silver and gold, ivory and porcelain – some inlaid with jewels – followed.
The first chocolate eggs were made in France and Germany in the early nineteenth century, not long after the first eating chocolate was invented (prior to this chocolate was enjoyed as a drink). But the chocolate couldn’t be moulded and early eggs were solid.
Chocolate eggs didn’t truly gain in popularity until Cadbury entered the market in 1875. Their early eggs were made from dark chocolate with a plain, smooth surface. Filled with dragees (small, hard sweets), they were decorated with chocolate piping and marzipan flowers. The range gradually increased until in 1893 Cadbury was producing 19 different lines, but it wasn’t until 1905 when the company introduced Cadbury Dairy Milk that the sales of Easter eggs really received a boost.
All-chocolate eggs did not immediately replace the novelty eggs of the Victorian era, however, and Cadbury continued to produce a fancy cardboard egg filled with chocolates until the early 1930s.
The first crème eggs appeared in 1923 as a forerunner to the Cadbury Creme Egg, launched in 1971. An instant hit, it has now become Cadbury’s most popular egg, with over 500 million being made every year, though shell eggs still form the largest sector of the Easter egg market.
So, we have Cadbury to thank for our modern day Easter egg, and in particular their invention of Dairy Milk. How ironic, then, that this year they should decide to replace the nation’s favourite chocolate on their most popular egg with an alternative!