We all likely know that Easter is a Catholic holiday — the culmination of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — and yet, so many Easter traditions that we are used to seeing every year have little to do with anything biblical at all.
Specifically, we’re talking about chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies. Where did these come from and why are they now such an integral part of this holiday? The answer is actually pretty complicated. Like many things in the modern world, current Easter traditions are a combination of religion, marketing, paganism and a love for candy and chocolate!
So yes, it is complex, but this article is going to attempt to answer the burning question: why do we eat chocolate eggs and bunnies at Easter?
Chocolate and Easter
Chocolate only became commonplace sometime in the mid-1800s, so relatively speaking, it is a fairly recent addition to the whole holiday. And though we eat them both at Easter, chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies have evolved along two separate paths, though they eventually meet. Like we said, it’s a strange story! But we’ll get there.
Let’s take a look at chocolate bunnies first.
Neither rabbits, hares nor bunnies are not mentioned in biblical scriptures, including the parts that tell the story of Jesus’ final days. Instead, their appearance is more pagan in nature.
While we know that Easter is rooted in religion, the other quality of Easter that most of us are familiar with is that it aligns with Spring.
What else do we normally associate with Spring? That’s right… fertility! Do you know what else represents fertility? You got it. Rabbits. And here’s where the blend of paganism and other folklore begin to blend in.
In German folklore, the goddess of fertility was called Ostara, and she was often symbolized with a hare at her side. Ostara sounds a lot like Easter, in fact it the word Easter was derived from her name. Every April, a celebration was thrown in honour of Ostara, and would include plenty of rabbit symbolism. Interesting, right? Now we’re getting somewhere.
But let’s put a pin in this for a minute. Don’t worry, we will come back to it.
While rabbits have purely pagan origins, Easter eggs, on the other hand, have a little more connection to the biblical origins. Orthodox or traditional Easter meals are heavy in symbolism — each dish is connected to an element of the Christ story. There is also an element of fasting and giving things up (if you are familiar with Lent). And eating certain things, like eggs, was originally not allowed by church officials during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter).
This was at a time when eggs were laid locally and so any that were produced during Holy Week were saved and then handed out to children as gifts. Sounds like a crummy gift to us nowadays but maybe they loved it? We can’t be sure. But this is an element of the egg’s journey to Easter.
Now, where things get intertwined is when German immigrants arrived in America and brought their culture and heritage with them. Remember that Ostara was a Germany goddess. The Pennsylvania Dutch (who are Germans) also imported the Oschter Haws, or Easter Hare, who delivered colored eggs to good children.
Ok, it’s all starting to come together. Now we can see how we have elements of rabbits, spring, eggs all coinciding with the celebration of Easter. And we can’t be sure how they all started to become totally intertwined but things often take on a life of their own over time.
Where does chocolate fit it?
As mentioned, chocolate wasn’t widely available before the middle of the 19th century. Until then, chocolate was expensive, complicated to make and made in small batches. And it was often served as a liquid — certainly not in either egg or rabbit form.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold, manufacturing began to apply to and change industries across the board. This includes food and chocolate manufacturing. Integrating mechanization into the chocolate-making process changed the scope by which chocolate could be made and distributed. It became cheaper and more accessible.
Mold-making also took on more complexity and became more accessible, too. Maybe it’s no surprise that Germany became a hot spot of mold making, and a man named Anton Reiche was one of the best-known manufacturers. He created an array of tinplate molds for chocolate and those started to reach countries around the world.
You can probably see where this exciting tale is going. While the Easter symbolism we are familiar with today (rabbits, eggs, etc) had been around for a while, it was about to meet up with the last sweet element.
In 1890, a Pennsylvania man named Robert L. Strohecker (yep, that’s definitely a German name) created a five-foot chocolate rabbit. He put it up in his drugstore at Easter to attract sightseers and more business into his store. This might be one of the first examples of Easter chocolate marketing, but I don’t have a source on that.
But the idea started to spread and evidence begins to pop up more frequently in the historical record. For example, a photo from 1927 shows two young boys standing on either side of a 75-pound chocolate rabbit in front of Florian’s Pharmacy in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The rest is history! Chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies, as well as Jesus on the cross and rising from the dead, plus Spring all share in this one mash-up of a holiday. It’s a little bizarre but that’s the world today — one big melting pot.
Whatever your take on the holiday is, we hope you get a chance to enjoy some delicious chocolate.