UPDATE: Now with added Corbyn
News from Amman, in Jordan, where British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken out against… the National Trust’s website for referring to an “Egg Hunt” rather than an “Easter Egg Hunt”:
Mrs May, who is a vicar’s daughter and a member of the National Trust, told ITV News: “I think the stance they’ve taken is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t know what they’re thinking about.
“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.”
One National Trust page is now headlined “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunt this Easter” (the last two words apparently recently added), while another just says “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunt” but has the words “easter-egg-hunt” in its url. The main text on both sites mentions “Easter”, and other promotional material for the event headlines with “Join the Easter fun”. There are also numerous other references to Easter events, and a section on Easter crafts.
May’s intervention in this supposed “controversy” comes in the wake of what appears to have been social media campaign against Cadbury – a browse through @CadburyUK’s Twitter feed for the last couple of weeks brings up many references to Easter, mostly posted as rebuttals to claims that the word has been excised from its Easter-egg packaging (“It’s not true we’ve removed ‘Easter’ from our Easter eggs, it’s clearly stated on back of the pack & embossed on some of / our eggs. We’ve also used it in our marketing for over 100 yrs & continue to do so in our current Easter campaigns”).
The controversy also seems to be part of a wider campaign against the National Trust – the Telegraph has now bashed out a piece headlined “Who is the National Trust’s boss Dame Helen Ghosh?”, which goes on to relate “a number of faux pas she has been associated with in recent years”.
The word “Easter egg” denotes a chocolate egg, or less commonly these days, a decorated egg shell or an egg-shaped box for giving an Easter gift. Chocolate eggs are almost exclusively secular products, and the inclusion of the word “Easter” does nothing to evoke the Christian teaching of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. A 2013 book called On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao suggests that chocolate Easter eggs were first created by Jewish chocolatiers in the town of Bayonne in France, and notes that the Quaker chocolate dynasties of Fry and Cadbury, who established the tradition in the UK, did so purely as a business opportunity, since Quakers do not generally celebrate Easter.
It is true that the Oxford English Dictionary does not have any references to “egg hunt” that are not preceded by the word “Easter”, but the usage “egg hunt” without “Easter” is not an innovation: the world’s largest Easter egg hunt, in Homer, Georgia, ran for 50 years and was known as the “Garrison Egg Hunt” without attracting adverse comment (and the event was established “for employees and fellow church members”). Further, a look on Google Books for the phrase “an egg hunt” shows that that phrase has appeared often enough in recent years, including in books relating to evangelism (e.g. “An egg hunt is fun—and in this game can reinforce Bible knowledge”).
One can see why a vicar or evangelist might prefer the phrase “Easter egg hunt” rather than just “egg hunt”, despite the distance of the word from its original meaning, but May’s outrage is excessive: reference to an “egg hunt” does nothing to insult or diminish those for whom Easter is religiously meaningful (indeed, references to “Easter fun” seem rather to trivialise the festival).
Behind the absurdity, it’s also slightly sinister when a politician uses a flimsy pretext to whip up resentment in this way. May’s populist outburst plays into a belligerent mood that appears to be descending on the UK, and it is no surprise that on social media, conspiricists have decreed that the real reason for the usage “egg hunt” is because of Muslims. Blowhards are also on the bandwagon: Nigel Farage has announced that “we must defend our Judeo-Christian culture and that means Easter”, while the splenetic talk-show host Jon Gaunt is leading calls for a boycott.
UPDATE: Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn has now waded in, with a slightly different angle of complaint:
Mr Corbyn said the decision to include Cadbury rather than Easter in the logo’s title reflected “commercialisation gone a bit too far”.
“It upsets me because I don’t think Cadbury’s should take over the name of Easter”, he said.
Presumably it would be better to have no corporate sponsorship, and no egg hunt at all – we could instead spend the time contemplating the good old days when the making and buying of chocolate eggs at Easter was a folk tradition rather than a commercial enterprise.
UPDATE 2: Jon Worth has charted how this story developed in the media, in a piece with the very apposite headline “The anatomy of misinformation: Cadbury, the National Trust, and (Easter) Eggs“.
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