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When the bells ring out for Easter
On 28 March, children but also the most gourmet grown-ups amongst us will go hunting for chocolate eggs hidden in their gardens. Rich in symbols, Easter is celebrated by Christians all over the world to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. But what is the link between religion and coloured eggs? Read on to find out more about this tradition.
Easter, a religious tradition
In many countries, Easter is a time for families to get together. In France, as in many other Christian countries, Easter Monday is a Bank Holiday. Good Friday on the other hand is not always the case but in several countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Germany and of course the United Kingdom it is. Note that two French departments, Alsace and Moselle have Good Friday as a bank holiday.
Painted eggs or chocolate delight
It is a tradition to offer eggs at Easter and eggs have not been chosen randomly as the Easter symbol. Eggs are represented in several religions because they symbolise life and fertility. In Christianity, the resurrection of Christ is described as a chick coming out of its egg. Judaism considers the egg as a symbol of life cycle. In the traditional Anglo-Saxon religion, people used to offer painted eggs to the goddess Eostre, who gave her name to Easter.
During Lent, Christians are not suppose to eat eggs. But, because chickens continue to lay eggs during the 40 days of Lent, people used to collect them and then paint them for Easter rather than let them go to waste. All Christians do not fast but the tradition of coloured eggs is still very much part of the ritual.
There were originally hardboiled eggs dyed in different colours and then decorated. Red onions were used to obtain a copper tint, beet and Brazil wood for purple, radish peelings for pale pink and ivy and nettle for green.
Chocolate arrived much later in Paschal tradition during the 18th century at a time when drinking chocolate was fashionable. The eggs were drained out then filled with liquid chocolate. Solid chocolate began to delight gourmets from 1847, when the British brothers Fry (whose company later merged with Cadbury) created a mix of sugar, cocoa butter and powder chocolate, making a soft paste which could be cooked and shaped in moulds. This is when the traditional Easter eggs turned into chocolate eggs, to the delight of everyone. Although the ultimate egg-shaped Easter gifts must have been Carl Fabergé's fabulous jewelled creations that he made during the 19th century for the Russian Czar and his wife, now precious collectors' pieces.
Nowadays, Easter chocolates are not only made in the shape of eggs, but also bells, fish (Christian symbol), chickens, ducks, bunny rabbits, pigs, sheep and cows... The link with the tradition is not quite sure, but chocolatiers take the opportunity to create beautiful sweets. Dark milk or white chocolate, sugar and almond paste, there is something for everybody.
Bells, bunny … and many others!
Depending on the country, eggs do not all arrive in the gardens in the same way. In France, Children are told that their chocolate eggs are brought back from Rome by the Easter bells. According to the catholic religion, bells must not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as a sign of mourning. It is explained to children that winged bells had flown to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. On their way back, they brought chocolate eggs and sowed them in the gardens. When the church bells start ringing on Easter morning, it is the sign for children to begin their Easter egg hunt.
In Alsace, the UK and even in Brazil, the eggs are brought by an Easter Bunny, messenger of the goddess Eostre. In Germany, some say one day a poor woman did not have any sweets to give her children. She decided to paint fresh eggs and hide them in the backyard, then gave her children a basket to keep their little presents safe. While they were hunting for the eggs, they saw a rabbit and imagined it just laid them. Therefore, every Easter in these countries, children wake up and find a basket behind their doors to store their chocolate eggs.
Apart from bells and bunnies, the Easter messenger can take many forms. In Bavaria, the eggs are brought by a rooster, in Westphalia it is a fox; in Hanover, a cuckoo and in Australia, a bilby, which is a tiny marsupial.
In brief, there are many animals representing Easter in the world, but the chocolate eggs are universal.
Once the eggs are hidden, children will have to search in every corner to find the chocolate eggs. Many egg hunts will be taking place in and around London over the Easter weekend:
- Easter at Kew Gardens: from 19 March to 10 April. £14 for an adult, free for children under 16. For more informations, click here
- Easter Giant Duck Hunt at London Wetland Centre: from 25th March to 11th April. £1 per person + admission to the Centre. For more informations, click here
- Easter Holiday Fun at Ham House and Garden: from 29th March to 10th April. Free event but admission charges. For more informations, click here