Eggs have been associated with the Christian festival of Easter, which celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ, since the early days of the church. However, Christian customs connected with Easter eggs are to some extent adaptations of ancient pagan practices related to spring rites.
The egg has long been a symbol of 'fertility', 'rebirth' and 'the beginning'. In Egyptian mythology, the phoenix burns its nest to be reborn later from the egg that is left; Hindu scriptures relate that the world developed from an egg.
With the rise of Christianity in Western Europe, the church adapted many pagan customs and the egg, as a symbol of new life, came to represent the Resurrection. Some Christians regarded the egg as a symbol for the stone being rolled from the sepulchre.
Eggs as an Easter Gift
The earliest Easter eggs were hen or duck eggs decorated at home in bright colours with vegetable dye and charcoal. Orthodox Christians and many cultures continue to dye Easter eggs, often decorating them with flowers.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw the manufacture of egg-shaped toys, which were given to children at Easter. The Victorians had cardboard, 'plush' and satin covered eggs filled with Easter gifts and chocolates. The ultimate egg-shaped Easter gifts must have been the fabulous jewelled creations of Carl Fabergé made during the 19th century for the Russian Czar and Czarina, now precious museum pieces.
Chocolate Easter eggs were first made in Europe in the early 19th century, with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. Some early eggs were solid, as the technique for mass-producing moulded chocolate had not been devised. The production of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been painstaking, as the moulds were lined with paste chocolate one at a time.
Cadbury Easter Eggs
John Cadbury made his first 'French eating Chocolate' in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made. Progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was slow until a method was found for making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The modern chocolate Easter egg owes its progression to the two greatest developments in the history of chocolate - the Dutch invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean in 1828 and the introduction of a pure cocoa by Cadbury Brothers in 1866. The Cadbury process made large quantities of cocoa butter available and this was the secret of making moulded chocolate or indeed, any fine eating chocolate.
The earliest Cadbury chocolate eggs were made of 'dark' chocolate with a plain smooth surface and were filled with sugared almonds. The earliest 'decorated eggs' were plain shells enhanced by chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Decorative skill and variety bloomed and by 1893 there were 19 different lines on the Cadbury Brothers Easter list in the UK. Richard Cadbury's artistic skill undoubtedly played an important part in the development of the Easter range. Many of his designs were based on French, Dutch and German originals adapted to Victorian tastes. Germany came up with the 'crocodile' finish, which by breaking up the smooth surface, disguised minor imperfections. This was the forerunner to the many distinctive finishes now available.
The launch in 1905 of Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate made a tremendous contribution to the Easter egg market. The popularity of this new chocolate vastly increased sales of Easter eggs and establish them as seasonal best sellers. Today the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.