When Easter approaches, chocolate takes on all sorts of unusual shapes: from eggs and bunnies to church bells, chickens, hares and lambs. What is the reason for this? Choco-Story, the growing international chain of chocolate museums, tells us all about it.
The egg as a religious symbol
People have always been fascinated by the egg, which is often referred to as the symbol of life. The egg plays a significant role in many religions. In Christian religions, the egg stands for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His rising from the grave. In Judaism, the egg represents the cycle of life. For the orthodox, Easter eggs are not decorated until on Maundy Thursday. The first egg, which is painted bright red, is saved as a lucky talisman.
People have been painting eggs for centuries. In the southern part of Africa, decorated ostrich eggs were found that turned out to be around 60,000 years old! The Ancient Egyptians, the Celts and the Sumerians (inhabitants of modern-day Iraq) all used painted eggs as ritual offerings.
So, where does chocolate come into the story?
The first chocolate eggs appeared in the eighteenth century. The chocolate was poured into empty eggshells. However, our ability to create all sorts of figures in chocolate we owe to the Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten. He discovered a procedure in 1828 that enabled him to extract cocoa butter from cocoa beans. Thanks to him, we can now create chocolate in all sorts of shapes, because when chocolate sets it hardens, after which it can be released from the mould into which it was poured.
The egg gets company
The chocolate egg has been getting all sorts of company in the past few years. First it was the chicken and the rooster; in which the link to the egg is still clear. It became even more complicated when the first chocolate bunnies and hares started to appear in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The Easter bunny has its origins in a German legend. According to this legend, a poor woman, who had no money to buy sweets for her children, decided to decorate eggs and hide them in her garden. When the children started looking for them, they spotted a rabbit and concluded that this creature must have hidden the eggs. To the Saxons, the hare was the harbinger of spring and a symbol of fertility and reproduction.
Lambs and church bells
Besides bunnies and hares, chocolate is now also poured into the shape of lambs and church bells. In Christian religion, the Easter lamb refers to Christ who sacrificed himself as a lamb to save mankind. The bells refer to Maundy Thursday: the Thursday before Easter. As a symbol of mourning, to commemorate the suffering of Christ, church bells are not allowed to be rung from this day until Easter.
Our thanks to Choco-Story for this fascinating contribution.