Easter Eggs – how Christian are they?

cadbury advert

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken up in a debate about whether the National Trust and Cadbury (the chocolate brand) should make more mention of Easter in their egg hunts. The chocolate brand partner up with the National Trust each year to provide all the Easter eggs which children search for around country estates and houses in the National Trust’s portfolio. Currently on the National Trust website it states there is a lot of Easter fun but the name of the hunt is: Cadbury Egg Hunt – as you can see missing the ‘Easter’. Is this a problem? How Christian are Easter eggs anyway?

Easter Sunday is the culmination of an entire season in the Christian calendar. Preceded by Lent (a time of penance for sin) at Easter Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what has this got to do with rabbit eggs?  It is interesting how many Easter traditions can be traced back to long before the spread of Christianity. Easter was in fact originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and springtime, Eostre

The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honouring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre. Although quite why a rabbit should bring you eggs, no-one is quite sure. It’s likely that the pagan symbolism that’s survived has become merged together and increasingly commercialised.  Meanwhile the egg has long been a symbol of new life, so it’s no surprise that they’re used to symbolise nature seeming to “wake up” and bring forward new life in spring. And guess what, this isn’t a recent thing either. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed eggs on their tombs. A Roman proverb states, “All life comes from an egg”.

rabbit and egg

So for a Christian remembering the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday, should they be so concerned with people missing the Easter out of an egg hunt which isn’t completely tied to the Christian story anyway? There is no mention of an Easter festival in the New Testament of the Bible.  In fact the celebration of Easter didn’t finally win out until A.D. 325, nearly 300 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! The word Easter isn’t even to do with Christianity states a Guardian journalist, who goes on to complain that it’s a shame that people needed Jesus’ death and resurrection to make them believe.

‘Jesus had me at “love your enemies”. He sealed the deal with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the good samaritan, the prodigal son, his transgression of the gender norms of the time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his reaching out to society’s outcasts, his practical help to the sick and hungry. That’s enough for me, as it evidently was to his disciples, who gave up what they had to follow him long before any crucifixion or resurrection.’

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Let us even consider hot cross buns – how Christian are they? The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is apparently linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life. The Christians then saw the Crucifixion in the cross bun and, as with many other pre-Christian traditions, replaced their pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter. According to one story, an Anglican monk in the 12th century baked buns and marked them with a cross in honour of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of the Easter weekend.

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It might not have been until Tudor times that it was permanently linked to Christian celebrations. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns except at burials, at Christmas or on Good Friday.  A song which some might still know to accompany these tasty Easter treats:

‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
Finally, a closer look at the criticism directed towards the National Trust and Cadbury’s. It was really kickstarted by the Archbishop of York who said that by calling the event the Cadbury Egg Hunt it was like “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s Christian founder, John Cadbury. John Cadbury was a Quaker. Quakers don’t celebrate Easter, because a Quaker believes that every day is holy, meaning that the criticism towards Cadbury is poorly judged too.
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