Peeps on Parade

How Did Easter Become a Candy Festival?

Paderborn Window of Three HaresEaster is a bit of a candy festival, surpassed only by Halloween. We’ll be spending $2.2 billion on Easter candy this year, just a hare less than the $2.5 billion Americans spent at Halloween.

But it hasn’t always been like this. Before the late nineteenth century, eggs, bunnies, and maybe a few chicks were at the center of popular Easter celebrations, but they were the real things — not chocolate, marshmallow, or jelly.

German Lutherans brought the concept of the Easter bunny — the Osterhase — to the U.S. in the eighteenth century. Rabbits and eggs have long served as symbols of new life in spring, readily adopted as Christian symbols for Easter. Orthodox Christians abstained from eating eggs during the Lent, leading to the custom of boiling and decorating eggs to preserve them for Easter. The ancient idea that hares could reproduce asexually is offered to explain how they became associated with the virgin Mary and the holy trinity, as in this window from Paderborn Cathedral in Germany.

Jelly Beans PeakThe rise of Easter chocolate and candies really came at the end of the nineteenth century with the rise of candy-making machinery. Jelly beans were made possible on a grand scale by two machines — one to form them and another to coat them with a hard shell.

Today, thanks to dietary tracking by myfitnesspal, we know that jelly beans own the spring and Easter season. Peeps, along with chocolate bunnies and eggs, peak on Easter. But jelly beans seem to start rising early in the season and keep going for some time afterward.

First Lady Michelle Obama was having none of this at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Candy was out. Healthy cooking and yoga were in, according to the Washington Post. Dietitians are taking a slightly more moderate position, rating the relative healthfulness of different Easter treats. In news reports, dark chocolate and portion controlled treats are getting better marks than Peeps, jelly beans, and white chocolate treats.

We’ll take the dark chocolate and forget the self-deception about this being health food. It’s just a treat.

Click here for some more history on some of the most popular Easter candies.

Peeps on Parade, photograph © Benjamin Golub / flickr

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