I love Easter – not for the death/rebirth situation – but rather for the giving of chocolate and the holiday it brings and the smell of hot cross buns whenever I go shopping. At the moment Lindt are on a massive campaign and their gold, forward-facing bunnies are to be found smiling brightly from every supermarket shelf in Cape Town. I was even given a free chocolate the other day by a nice girl in Woolies, having agreed that I would buy said bunny and use the unique code on the bottom to enter a competition promising me and my family the chance of winning a holiday to Mauritius. Which I duly did. These days I enter every competition I can – especially if it involves six people being put up at a swanky hotel all expenses paid. Well you never know – do you? We might just win.
“Do you…..” – I asked the girl – “…know why there is an Easter bunny”. She stared at me for a while, moving spit around in her mouth nervously. It’s a question I have often pondered – and maybe Lindt knew the answer. She shook her head, offering me another chocolate – her eyes begging me to go away.
Which got me wondering: why are these traditions even part of Easter? Hot Cross Buns – we know, I checked that out last year. But bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks sitting on cotton wool nests? What do they have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?
Well, as it turns … nothing.
Soft, floppy, hopping and cheeping animals – and the gifts they bring… all stem from pagan roots. Which became incorporated into the celebration of Easter quite separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
According to the University of Florida’s Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture: the origin the Easter Bunny can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. During the Vernal Equinox our Teutonic pals held feasts in honour of Eostra (aka Ostara), the Pagan goddess of spring and fertility. Eostra’s symbol was the rabbit – because of the animal’s fertility and high reproduction rates. The Vernal Equinox happens around the same time as the resurrection and Eostra sounds like Easter – and so bingo – a tradition was born.
When the Germans took the long voyage over the Atlantic to the New World, they took Eostra with them. The first Easter Bunny legend was documented in the 1500s. By the mid 1600s, the first story about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in the garden was published. Making nests for the rabbit to lay its eggs in, and organising Easter Eggs hunts soon followed. Along with baskets and bonnets etc. As to the chickens – I can’t be sure, but I suspect they popped out of real eggs that were used in the celebration in those days. Once chocolate became a staple of the new way of living, it became the go-to gift for the wealthy. And so Chocolate Easter Eggs were created. As it became less expensive, we all began to eat it.
So – there you are. A little story to tell your friends after you have had a few of these. If you can remember the details.
1 lemon wedge
4 tbs/50g loose brown sugar
4 tbs/70g finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or use a good quality cocoa powder)
4 tbs/30ml hot chocolate, cooled – I used a dark choc mix from a tin creamed with a teeny bit of milk. Don’t add sugar.
4 tbs/30ml espresso, cooled – or use a strong brewed coffee
3 oz/90ml vodka, chilled (always, always chilled)
1 oz/30ml creamy liqueur of your choice: Amaretto, Creme de Cacao, Kalua etc
- Wipe the rim of a chilled, oversized martini glass with lemon wedge.
- Pour sugar and chocolate into a saucer and mix well.
- Dip glass rim in mixture and roll to thoroughly coat rim.
- Over a large handful of ice in a cocktail shaker, pour hot chocolate, espresso, vodka and creamy liqueur.
Shake until frothy. Strain into prepared glass.
If you fancy – drop a couple of tiny marshmallows on the surface, and torch them with your kitchen blowtorch. If you don’t have one of those – stick a couple on the prongs of a fork and hold over a gas flame. But not to close to the gas or they will taste nasty. Don’t do any of this once you’re onto your second martini.
Happy Easter, Vernal Equinox, Pesach or anything else you may be celebrating.