25 Mar Stand out this Easter with a pagan ritual!
Proving that Graphic Design has been around for centuries – did you know that pagan symbolism and iconography influenced our Easter traditions that we see today?
Hot cross buns for example. At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon fertility goddess, an ox was sacrificed and its crossed horns became a symbol of the season carved into the bread. The word ‘bun’ derives from the Saxon word ‘boun’ meaning ‘sacred ox’.
Easter lilies. It’s believed that the lily, because of its shape, was associated with the reproductive organs, and therefore with fertility.
Easter candles. The pagans would light bonfires to welcome the rebirth of the sun God. Christians now celebrate the Easter Vigil service.
Easter Bunny. The symbols of the Norse goddess Ostara were the hare and the egg, both representing fertility. The earthly symbol for the goddess Eastre, goddess of the dawn, was also the rabbit, a symbol of new life. Historians believe the legend of the Easter Bunny originated in Germany before surfacing in the New World in the seventeenth century. Children believed the Easter Bunny would leave them coloured eggs if they were good, and left out their Easter bonnets and caps for the gifts.
Easter eggs. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth and fertility for many centuries. Long before Christianity was introduced, eggs were painted with bright colours to celebrate the sunlight of spring.
Decorating and colouring Easter eggs was a popular custom in the middle ages, and throughout Europe different cultures have evolved their own styles and colours. In Greece, crimson-coloured Easter eggs are exchanged, whereas in Eastern Europe and Russia silver and gold decorations are common, and Austrian Easter eggs often have plant and fern designs.
The first of the highly wrought Fabergé eggs was made as an Easter gift for the Empress Marie of Russia from her husband, Tsar Alexander, in 1883. It featured a small gold egg in an outside shell of platinum and enamel.
Easter eggs have been coloured and decorated from earliest times. In Edward I’s household accounts for 1307 there is an entry of:
“18 pence for 450 eggs to be boiled and dyed or covered with gold leaf and distributed to the Royal household”.
Later, craftsmen made artificial eggs of silver and gold, ivory or porcelain, often inlaid with jewels. The ultimate Easter egg-shaped gifts must have been the fabulous jewelled creations by Carl Fabergé made during the 19th Century for the Russian Czar and Czarina. Today, these superb creations are precious museum pieces.
In the 18th century, people could buy pasteboard or papier-maché eggs, in which they hid small gifts. By the 19th century cardboard eggs covered with silk, lace or velvet and fastened with ribbon were fashionable.
In Europe Easter eggs are taken seriously. The old art of decorating the real egg is still very much alive. Many of them are dyed red to symbolise Christ’s blood.
The chocolate Easter egg
The chocolate Easter egg has developed from the simple type wrapped in paper to the beribboned variety wrapped in brightest foil and packed in a box or basket.
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in Europe in the early 19th Century with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. A type of eating chocolate had been invented a few years earlier but it could not be successfully moulded. Some early eggs were solid while the production of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been rather painstaking as the moulds were lined with paste chocolate one at a time!
John Cadbury made his first ‘French eating Chocolate’ in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made. This may have been because he was not sufficiently impressed with continental eggs to wish to compete with them or because he was too busy with other aspects of his growing business. In fact, progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was very slow until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The modern chocolate Easter egg with its smoothness, shape and flavour owes its progression to the two greatest developments in the history of chocolate – the invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean by the Dutch inventor Van Houten 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 dragees. The earliest ‘decorated eggs’ were plain shells enhanced by chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Decorative skill and variety soon followed and by 1893 there were no less than 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. From Germany came the ‘crocodile’ finish which by breaking up the smooth surface, disguised minor imperfections; still used today by some manufacturers, this was the forerunner to the many distinctive finishes now available.
The launch in 1905 of the famous Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate made a tremendous contribution to the Easter egg market. The popularity of this new kind of chocolate vastly increased sales of Easter eggs and did much to establish them as seasonal best sellers. Today the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.