Read historical texts from cover to cover, and you won’t find any mention of a rabbit depositing chocolate eggs in children’s baskets during the wee hours of Easter Sunday.
Yet somehow, these traditions have become inextricably linked with the Easter holiday. In fact, Easter rakes in the highest candy sales of any American holiday except for Halloween.
Exactly why is it that the Easter bunny is obsessed with chocolate eggs? While the origins of this tradition are a little hazy, here’s what we know about the relationship between the Easter bunny, eggs, and chocolate.
Why Eggs? Why Bunnies? And Why Chocolate?
While chocolate eggs have a distinct association with Easter, separating the chocolate from the egg can help us understand why these two items originally became linked to the Easter holiday—first individually, and then together.
As it turns out, the egg connection is pretty straightforward. Since ancient times, human cultures have viewed eggs as symbols of new life. This theme lines up with some of the concepts surrounding Easter, so eggs were easily paired up with the holiday.
If you’re still confused as to why a bunny—which definitely does not lay eggs—was chosen to deliver said eggs, then congratulations: You’ve retained some information from 9th grade biology. The answer lies in the fact that rabbits, just like eggs, have long been perceived as symbols of fertility. (In case you’ve forgotten, here’s another biology tidbit: Rabbits are some of the world’s most productive breeders.)
So that explains why eggs are connected to Easter and why a rabbit delivers them. Now where does chocolate figure in?
History suggests several factors may have contributed to the rise of the chocolate egg, including post-Lenten feasting, efforts to engage children with the Easter holiday, and a savvy marketing bid on the part of chocolate makers.
Lent consists of the 40 days prior to Easter, during which many Christians choose to abstain from something that is normally a big part of their lives. Historically, most Christians gave up something savory from their diets, such as eggs, meat, or milk. As a result, many Christians would conclude Lent on Easter Sunday by feasting on eggs—which is another way eggs became associated with the holiday.
Dating back even earlier to chocolate’s Mesoamerican roots, it was tradition to incorporate chocolate into celebration events since at least 350 B.C., whether as a beverage, dessert, or chocolate pieces.
All told, the practice of Lent earned Easter a connection with indulgence. So once sweets such as chocolate became readily available to the general public, they were easily incorporated into holiday feasts.
Incorporating sweet treats and egg hunts into Easter traditions also helped keep children engaged. You probably won’t delight a child with talk of abstaining from things they love. But ply them with chocolate and fun activities, and they’re more likely to take an interest in any holiday.
Finally, the advent of chocolate eggs also came down to good ‘ol marketing. The first chocolate Easter eggs were produced in 19th century Europe. Chocolate makers quickly spotted a way to cash in on the Easter holiday, and the idea caught on. Not long after, Cadbury figured out how to mass produce those chocolatey eggs—and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, we exchange chocolate eggs on Easter simply because it’s the conventional thing to do. But chocolate eggs are hardly the only tasty treat suitable for Easter sharing. If you simply can’t accept the biological inaccuracies of a rabbit delivering eggs (or you’re just looking to buck tradition), then consider any of these other stellar chocolate gift ideas instead.