Did Cadbury turn Easter into an orgy of chocolate?

Chocolate is pretty much all the Resurrection of Christ means for lots of Brits

It wasn’t, as it happens, John Cadbury who made the first chocolate Easter egg; he was second to do it, in 1875, two years after Joseph Fry. But Cadbury was part of the great debasement of the Easter egg habit. Since medieval times, Easter was celebrated by decorating and presenting actual eggs. But Cadbury helped turn it into an orgy of chocolate consumption, which is pretty well all the Resurrection of Christ means for lots of Brits.

Which brings us neatly to the great Easter Egg row, into which the Prime Minster has now added her mite, saying that it is ‘perfectly ridiculous’ for the Cadbury’s Egg Hunt conducted with the National Trust to omit the word ‘Easter’ from the title of its egg hunt.

It didn’t exactly help matters that Cadbury issued a statement saying: ‘We invite people from all faiths and none to enjoy our seasonal treats.’ Don’t know about you, but that phrase ‘all faiths and none’ never fails to make me reach for my pistol. The Archbishop of York had already entered the fray, saying that dropping the word Easter from the Hunt is tantamount to ‘spitting on the grave of John Cadbury’, whose religion conspicuously characterised his life’s work, in a good way.

So it did. But not quite the way we suppose. Mr Cadbury’s descendants have now in turn got stuck into the row, reminding us all that John Cadbury, like other chocolate manufacturers, was in fact a Quaker, whose take on  Christianity was rather different from the Archbishop’s, Mrs May’s and, come to that, mine. They are lovely people, Quakers, and notable philanthropists and pacifists, but they’re the grimmest sort of Christian, if you like tradition, feasts and fasts, liturgy and ritual. As his great, great, great, great granddaughter, Esther McConnell said, ‘as a Quaker, he didn’t celebrate Easter…he believed that every day is equally sacred, and back then, this was expressed by not marking festivals.’ 

What he was into was teetotalism; his model village, Bourneville, was dry and stays dry to this day. If we really want to mark the spirit of John Cadbury we should do it in Lent, by giving up drink, which is making so many of us unfit for society right now. If we really want to return to the great Easter egg tradition we should colour some eggs and decorate them with gold and silver, as in the thirteenth century, and present them to our friends; or just hand eggs to the local parish; no doubt it’ll be pleased to have them. Chocolate eggs are a mere modern novelty, popularised only in the middle of the last century; make mine the ostrich egg from Hotel Chocolat – or I wouldn’t say no to the bunny from Fortnum’s.


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