Wednesday, 28 March 2018

THE ORIGIN OF EASTER EGGS

There are some scholars who will tell you that the origin of Easter Eggs predates Christianity and is bound up in Pagan mythology and seasonal celebrations. Also there are some who believe that Easter Eggs are symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good luck to them I say. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story especially if the story is well written and has disciplined scholastic structure. See Jahnabi Barooah's take on it here:



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The problem with this though is that it's OK for decoratively painted but ultimately boring real eggs that mainly European cultures hide in the garden to disappoint children but what about the yummy chocolate variants. Surely these weren't traditional and I can't see the symbolism in them.

The reason ? Because they have nothing to do with Pagan worship, Christian symbolism or historical European culture that's why.

Let me tell you a story.

We all know that the hollow chocolate Easter Egg has its origins in the early nineteenth century in Germany and France. See here:




But where did that marshmallow thing come from?

In the 1920s American and British confectioners were departing from the rather stuffy and stolid offerings made by the Europeans particularly by the dour Swiss who took all the fun out of lollies by being too pretentious about them and producing expensive, serious and adult dark and bitter  chocolate variants. The Brits and the Americans, particularly the Americans couldn't stand all this pretension and liked their confectionery to be a bit sweeter as well. 

A new mobility created by the motorcar and improved public transport meant that people were on the go a lot more and were eating and snacking when they were out and about. Pocket sized food items became popular as well as newly packaged foodstuffs like packets of nuts and nibbles. It wasn't long before the 'candy bar' was seen with its handy shape and that could ne unwrapped while eating and that could be rewrapped if not all was consumed at one time. Egozi bars, Mars bars, Babe Ruths, Crunchies, Frys Chocolate Creams, Hershey Bars and a myriad of others were being consumed at work, on holiday, at school and anywhere in or out of the home.


In 1925 England was having an unseasonably warm Spring. At the Cadbury Confectionery factory at Nottingham Arthur Potts was the night supervisor at the plant and whose job involved ensuring that hygiene and safety standards were maintained and that equipment was in good working order for production the following day. A rigorous system of testing the cooling and refrigeration was part of his nightly regime.

Unfortunately Arthur was a bon vivant who fancied himself as a bit of a baccinalian - a souse in other words. One night Arthur had stopped off at his local for a bit longer than usual and was frankly pissed. On his inspection round he totally forgot to check the coolant levels in the refrigeration system and, as there was a very slow leak, by mid morning the next day the confectionery stored and ready for shipment was becoming a bit pliable. The most popular item of the time and one that had dominated the production line for the previous three weeks was the chocolate covered marshmallow bar the Alexandra named in honour of Princess Alexandra who was Queen Mary's sister and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was very popular and considered to be sweet and yummy hence the candy bar being named after her.



By midday the store workers who were charged with packing and distributing the Alexandras were finding the job difficult as the bars weren't holding their shape well enough to be stacked. A bit of tomfoolery took place and some wags started throwing the bars at others yelling out "Food Fight!"
This developed into a full battle and the workers divided into two teams to carry out attacks on each other. One team found that moulding the Alexandra bar into the shape of a snowball was the most effective way of throwing them and scoring the most hits.

The pandemonium came to the notice of upstairs management and the managing director came storming in demanding that the frivolity ceased and threatened to sack everyone. It could have been an industrial disaster until a foreman pointed out to the MD that there was no way that the workers could pack the bars and that they were effectively useless. The MD calmed down and sent everyone off to lunch.

Meanwhile an engineer discovered and fixed the coolant leak and put the blast fans on full to rapidly cool down the plant, the storerooms and the tempers. While everyone was away at lunch an enterprising chap who fancied himself as a marketer even though 'Marketing' hadn't yet been invented, wandered about picking up the discarded 'snowballs'. He found that the rapid temperature drop was firming up the moulded bars and he was able to get some of them into a nice consistent shape in his cupped hands and they stayed in that shape.

He found that even though some had been broken in half they still tasted as good as the original Alexandra bar - sweet and yummy.

Exited he dashed upstairs to talk to the MD who luckily was an enlightened fellow who heard him out and called a team together to see what they could do to package and move the thousands of moulded bars. They all started referring the new shape as egg-shaped and soon they were calling them chocolate marshmallow eggs. It was already March and their peak selling season had already gone so the MD asked for any creative ideas to accelerate the sales. Now the 'marketing' guy was quite a scholar in his youth and had studied classical history and religions at university. He remembered that there is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the early writings of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless sometime in the early centuries AD the festival was created and called Easter.
About the same time the cycle of paschal solemnities was extended to the ninth week before Easter by the institution of stational masses for Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays.
The correct date of the Easter festival was to be calculated at Alexandria, the home of astronomical science, and the bishop of that see was to announce it yearly to the churches under his jurisdiction, and also to the occupant of the Roman see, by whom it was to be communicated to the Western churches.
Our clever 'marketing' guy immediately saw a connection between Alexandria and Easter and then again a link to the Alexandra (bar). When he started to talk about this some sales guys piped in with the fact that Easter was in fact less than a month away and soon there were some great ideas flying around.

Hitherto they had never seen Easter as a peak selling period like Christmas as the rather serious and dour Christians were too busy going to church and flagellating themselves to actually buy anything nice. They considered treats as a sin especially around this time that was shrouded in misery and mysticism. The 'marketing' guy, even though he had studied religions was an atheist and not bound up in silly beliefs. He was successful in convincing the MD and the others to package up all of the 'eggs' as Alexandra 'Easter' eggs.

The offtake was so successful that the engineers were instructed to raise the temperature in the stores so that the remaining Alexandra bars could be moulded into egg-shapes to fill a rapidly growing demand.

In subsequent years, at Easter time they configured the machinery to produce egg shapes as well as bar shapes so that the company's two biggest selling products were Cadbury's Alexandra bars and Cadbury's Alexandra 'Easter' eggs. Over time the Alexandra bar was discontinued and the Alexandra 'Easter' eggs were just named Cadbury 'Easter Eggs'.

Serendipity won out again. Easter eggs were to prove to be tremendously successful and a great saviour for the company during periods of Depression and war.

Sadly there is no record of what happened to Arthur Potts.

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