British chocolate giant Cadbury drew some ire from conservatives and Christians last week when it rebranded its annual “Easter Egg Trail” as “The Great British Egg Hunt”. The annual event, which is now in its 10th year, is conducted in partnership with the National Trust and this year will sponsor 300 egg hunts across the UK.
The removal of the word “Easter” from the title has been criticized by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, saying, “To drop Easter from Cadbury's Easter Egg Hunt in my book is tantamount to spitting on the grave of [John] Cadbury.” He went on to credit the founder of Cadbury’s Quaker faith for his success as an industrialist.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also weighed in. She took a break from an official trip to the Middle East to issue the following statement: “Easter's very important. It's important to me, it's a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world. So I think what the National Trust is doing is frankly just ridiculous.” More ridiculous, apparently, than a Prime Minister taking the time to criticize a heritage organization and chocolate company over their branding.
Cadbury and The National Trust have denied that this was an attempt to airbrush Easter out of the holiday. The National Trust called the accusation “nonsense,” citing the dozens of references to Easter on their website and in their promotional material. Cadbury, in a statement to the media, said it was “simply not true to claim that we have removed the word ‘Easter’ from our marketing and communication materials.” It added, “We invite people from all faiths and none to enjoy our seasonal treats.”
However, these issuances have done little to dissuade the angry public, with thousands threatening to boycott the events and withdraw their membership from the National Trust.
This is just another case of misplaced religious outrage, much like the imaginary “War on Christmas,” designed to stoke populist and religious fire in a voter base that the conservative Theresa May appeals to. Upon any thought or examination, it is pretty clear that the charges are bogus, or at least inconsequential, and that this outrage is manufactured.
First, John Cadbury was a Quaker, a Christian denomination that does not observe religious festivals based on the belief that every day should be equal in faith. A representative of the Quakers in Britain has spoken about the issue saying, “Rather than keeping traditional church festivals, Quakers say every day is a chance for new beginnings for all of us, for love and forgiveness, restorative justice and joy.” I doubt very much the thing that would have upset John Cadbury most is the branding his company chose to employ around a commercialized bunny and egg hunt on the most somber and holy day in the Christian tradition.
I fail to see how the marketing strategy adopted by a multinational corporation (Cadbury is a subsidiary of Mondelez International) profiteering off a pagan tradition of egg decoration and chocolate has any bearing on the health or stability of the Christian faith. Cultural commentator Peter York said it better than I ever could, “I blame the Americans for this, and some creepy globalist neoliberal, private-equity-driven motive aimed at not offending anyone who has a tuppence in their purse.” While his comments were intended to lambast Cadbury for appealing blandly to the free-market, I take the view that they are obligated to do so. When they made the decision to rebrand you can bet that it was to make more money, which means that the free market has dictated that ‘Easter’ is less profitable than the ‘Great British Egg Hunt’. This may be a tough pill to swallow, but Mondelez and their subsidiaries are, above all else, accountable to shareholders to post profits. Come on conservatives, I thought you were all about free market gains and totally against identity politics. Where did that go?
Beyond that, I can’t work out how a chocolate company’s dropping of the word Easter from some egg hunts constitutes a larger assault on Christianity or the festival itself. After all, none of their branding makes – or ever made – any reference to the resurrection, Jesus, churches of any kind or the broader Christian tradition. They depict bunnies that cluck and weird, oozing stills of chocolate eggs. Easter itself, like so many other Christian holidays, is a mashup of pagan and Christian traditions. The name comes from Eostre, a festival celebrating a goddess of fertility and renewal whose symbol was a rabbit, and the tradition of decorating eggs comes from a continued celebration of renewal and rebirth in the spring.
Unless you are going to Church on Easter Sunday, the rest of the traditions surrounding the festival have about as much to do with Jesus and Christianity as Santa Claus does to his birth.
The actions of Cadbury surrounding Easter have never had anything to do with Christianity, but have always been about selling as much chocolate as possible. The only difference is that one layer of religious veneer has peeled back and made some folks uncomfortable – but if you think Jesus should be selling chocolate eggs, I’d say you have bigger issues of faith than what an egg hunt is called.