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“A Basket Filled with Candy: An Easter Tradition”

April 1, 2007

Easter derives its name from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. In the second century A.D., Christian missionaries sought to convert the tribes of northern Europe. The holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus coincided with pagan springtime celebrations. These feasts also emphasized the triumph of life over death.  Gradually, the Christian observance took the name Easter and absorbed traditional symbols of fertility. Some, like eggs and rabbits, became models for confections to be enjoyed as the season of the Lent comes to an end on Easter Sunday.

A well-filled Easter basket usually overflows with jellybeans, chocolate eggs, marshmallow chickens, and a chocolate rabbit. Sometimes, if the Easter Bunny was conscience-stricken, a book, an educational toy, or even a toothbrush and toothpaste would appear in our children’s Easter baskets. Candy, however, was always the main attraction. 

Standing as a silent sentinel, the chocolate bunny guards the other Easter confections. I learned early on that chocolate hares are not all created equal. Though some are disappointingly hollow, others are products of world-class chocolatiers. For a truly delicious treat, look for a solid dark chocolate rabbit.

Jellybeans are the size of a red kidney bean. They usually have a hard candy shell and gummy interior. They come in a variety of colors and flavors. The confection is primarily made of sugar. The interior jelly traces its origin back hundreds of years to a candy called Turkish Delight. The shell is essentially the same as a recipe developed in the late 19th century for Jordan Almond candies. Jellybeans were created at the beginning of the 20th century. It was not until 1930 that jellybeans, because they looked like miniature eggs, came to be considered an Easter candy.

Peeps are small marshmallow candies shaped like baby chickens, rabbits, and lambs. Just Born, a candy manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, produces Peeps.  The Just Born Company introduced Peeps in 1953.

Wikipedia describes the sport of Peep Jousting. The messy and entertaining game is played in a microwave oven. Two Peeps are prepared for battle by licking the side of each until they are sticky. A toothpick is attached to each Peep, pointing forward like a jousting lance. The Peeps are then set in a microwave. Squared off against each other, they expand as they are heated. The toothpick lances thrust toward the opponent. The winner is the Peep that does not pop and deflate. There have been many confirmed deaths of peeps. Children should not try the game at home without adult supervision.

When our children were young, among their favorite things to find in their Easter baskets, were Cadbury Eggs. An Easter basket was not complete without one or two of the foil-wrapped treats. The taste of a Cadbury Egg is exquisite.  These crème-filled chocolate eggs may seem like pure decadence, but, in fact, the origin of the confection was prompted by a genuine ethical concern. 

In Victorian Britain, industrial workers, including mothers and children, spent long days working in dirty, dangerous factories.  Families lived in cramped tenements.  Widespread alcoholism contributed to poverty and domestic violence.  The Salvation Army attacked these problems with soup, soap, and salvation.  John Cadbury and his family took a different approach to social reform.  They used cocoa.

The Cadbury’s belonged to the Society of Friends, the Quakers.  In 1831, John opened a shop in Birmingham, England, selling coffee and tea, as alternatives to alcoholic beverages.  He soon added cocoa.  For 30 years he ground cocoa by hand, using a mortar and pestle.  When he retired in 1861, his sons, Richard and George, moved the growing business to a new plant in the countryside.  The business employed more than 200 people.  Not only did the Cadbury’s build a state-of-the-art chocolate factory, but they also built a village, enabling their employees to escape the dingy city of Birmingham.  The small community featured cottages with gardens, public parks, swimming pools, shops, schools, and churches.   In keeping with the Cadbury’s convictions about alcohol, there was no pub available.

They sought to make life pleasant at work.  Each day began with a Bible study.  Continuing education classes were offered at night.  The brothers circulated among the workers listening for good ideas.

Their Quaker convictions about equality and justice had much to do with the way they ran their business.  George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, believed that all people possessed an inner light that linked them to God and made them equal to each other.  Influenced by this principle, the Cadbury Board governed by consensus.  The company committees included representatives from all levels of the organization.  All of these reforms were intended to elevate the sense of dignity among the workers.

The Cadbury’s enjoyed the affection of hundreds of loyal workers and gained the admiration of many of their industrial peers.

John Cadbury and his family believed that by allowing their faith to influence their business, they could be true to their moral values. The Cadbury Company became, not only a successful enterprise, but also a sterling example of a corporation making ethical decisions.

This week, if your diet permits, enjoy a Cadbury Egg, pop a handful of jellybeans, and eat a chocolate rabbit, beginning with the ears. When your sweet tooth is satisfied, try a game of Peep jousting at your own risk.

After all, Easter only comes once a year.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, April 2007

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