Easter, Resurrection and Chocolate Bunnies: Social Marketing Through the Ages

Image courtesy of Toelstede (Wikipedia-Name Nyks).

Image courtesy of Toelstede (Wikipedia-Name Nyks).

Easter is one of the holiest of holidays for Christians.   And with Easter’s roots in antiquity, we can see why the symbolism of this holiday continues to give succor and hope to believers today. But Easter is also a holiday that resonates for secular audiences.  You just have to know your market.

Easter derives its name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. As happened with many pagan holidays, early Christians saw an opportunity.  Around the second century CE they began absorbing Eostre’s meaning into their own story of Christ’s death and resurrection.  It was the holiday that spoke to the core of the human experience:  that death was merely transitory and that life—whether in this world or the next–prevailed.  So the most heralded and cherished concept of the Christian faith became entwined with Eostre, which itself commemorated life triumphing over death.  By correlating the stories over time, the fledgling Christian church not only gained a popular holiday, but also converts.  Forget today’s marketing calibrations for brand loyalty, return on investment and predictive validity.  This early social marketing by enterprising Christians is a case study of excellence in branding.  What better than a holiday celebrating life over death?  What smarter business plan than capitalizing on the success and market share held by your competitor, in this case, Eostre celebrants?

For those faithful there are many ways to celebrate this holy holiday. For the more secular among us, here are some interesting facts from 2013 (for U.S.):[1]

  • Pounds of Easter candy purchased annually: 120 Million
  • Number of jelly beans made for Easter: 16 Billion
  • Percent of Easter candy purchased that is chocolate: 70 %
  • Number of chocolate bunnies made for Easter each year: 90 Million
  • Percent of Americans who say chocolate bunnies should be eaten ears first: 76 %

Eye-popping data for this cavity-inducing holiday, isn’t it?  You can’t argue with the numbers that the Easter market has huge appetites (controversy too if you consider the bunny ears v. other body parts as the choice for a first bite).

And while we are equivocating over bunny parts, just where did the Easter Bunny come from?

The Easter Bunny

A 1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny.

A 1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny.

The rabbit has a long mythology across cultures.  We’re familiar with its reputation for prolific reproduction.  This is an apt trait for a holiday about rebirth and fertility. Among German Lutherans hundreds of years ago the Easter Hare was an arbiter of proper behavior, much like Santa Claus. Children who were obedient received eggs, candy and sometimes toys from the basket that the Easter Hare carried.  German immigrants to the United States brought their Easter traditions.  Cakes and breads were often made in the shape of a hare, and it is speculated that this could have been when chocolate rabbits were first created. Over time the hare became a rabbit, which morphed into a bunny, and any judgment on a child’s behavior disappeared.  All good news for children, candy companies and dentists.

Easter Parade

Easter may be the most celebrated holiday, sartorially speaking.  Easter finery has been on parade for centuries, at first to connote a new life in Christ, and in more modern times to see a peacock display of dress and outrageous millinery creations.

In its early dawning the Christian Church used clothing and pageantry as a way of demonstrating a new life in Christ.   Constantine I in the 4th century ordered his people to dress in their finest garments to honor Christ’s death and resurrection.[2] Later, recently baptized Christians wore white robes during Easter week and already baptized Christians wore new clothes to share the symbolism of a resurrected life.  In the early Middle Ages people gathered before and after Easter services for a parade, a collection of the faithful that also was designed to impress nonbelievers and hopefully attract them to the church. Churchgoers in Medieval Europe would followed a crucifix through town, with the Stations of the Cross created to use as a worship technique for the largely illiterate masses to learn about the faith. Perhaps the most famous parade tradition started in New York City in the 1880s with a spontaneous walk down Fifth Avenue, a parade that still continues today.  Here, one surrenders any religious symbolism and instead celebrates a whimsical and extravagant costuming heralding the arrival of spring. See some examples here.

Easter Eggs

The Rose Trellis Faberge Egg presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, on Easter (April 22) 1907.

The Rose Trellis Faberge Egg presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, on Easter (April 22) 1907.

Eggs are again a sign of fertility with ancient symbolic sources in Egyptian, Persia and Rome. In Medieval Europe eggs were forbidden during Lent so they had to be preserved through boiling or other means.  Soon they became associated with Easter meals and gifts.  Egg dyeing has been practiced across cultures.  The Eastern Europe practice of making elaborate designs on eggs is an art in itself.  Perhaps the most famous of decorated eggs were the Imperial Eggs created by the jewelry firm of Peter Carl Faberge for czars Alexander III and Nicholas II in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jewel-encrusted, each with a surprise such as a watch or picture frame, these creations are unrivaled in their beauty and extravagance. See the names and pictures of the Imperial Eggs remaining today.  In April 2014 a previously unaccounted for Faberge egg was discovered.  Read more here about this astounding find.

Read more of the history on our blog on egg decorating.

Social Marketing:  Learning From the Ancients

Again we see how Easter has transmuted from an early commemoration of rebirth into a pageantry of religion and secular pursuit.  Last year in the United States $14.6 billion was spent annually on all Easter-related goods.[3] Much as many decry the secularization of religion, regardless of type, there are those who see merit in attracting more people to the fold, even if it means blending the religious with the more worldly. The early church did a masterful job of using language, symbols, clothing and ritual to attract the masses. How many of us today who so assiduously follow Google metrics, socially engage with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and gauge every hiccup in today’s cyber-driven world will have that traction in another 2,000 years?  Break off those chocolate bunny ears and ponder that.

See some fascinating and unique ways that people celebrate Easter around the world: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicalima/unique-easter-traditions-from-around-the-world

Try your hand at egg decorating with traditional Hungarian designs: http://magyarmarketing.com/blogs/a-hungarian-touch-easter-egg-coloring-page-two


[1] http://www.statisticbrain.com/easter-statistics/.

[2]Linda Polon, Aileen Cantwell (Mar 1, 1983). The Whole Earth Holiday Book. Good Year Books. Retrieved 9 April 2012.

[3]http://www.statisticbrain.com/easter-statistics/.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Green Borscht with Matzah for a Multi-Cultural Passover

Green nettle soup in a bowl with a spoon isolated on white background

Monday night, April 14th, was the first night of Passover, the eight-day festival celebrated by Jews around the world to commemorate the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The start of the holiday always corresponds to the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan.

Let’s go back 3,300 years.  The Israelites are enslaved enduring back-breaking labor and abuse at the hands of the Egyptians.  As told in Exodus in the Bible, the Pharaoh refuses the demands of Moses, the Israelite leader acting upon God’s command, to free the Israelites.  As retribution, God sends ten plagues to strike down the Egyptians. The tenth plague was the most horrific:  the slaughter of the first born in each household.  But the Israelites were spared because they followed God’s instructions to smear sacrificed lamb’s blood on their doorposts. The word Passover or Pesach in Hebrew refers to the way in which God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites on that night.[1]

While First Seder, the central meal that marks the beginning of Passover, is technically to be held on Monday, Seders are conducted throughout the week by those who are not able, for various reasons, to hold their Seder on the first night of Passover.[2] So there is still plenty of time to enjoy the delicious and meaningful flavors of the holiday. Passover is a special time because it brings together many cultures around the world, all honoring and celebrating in their own unique ways the central human right to freedom. The recipe we have for you today hails from Kyrgyzstan and combines the Eastern and Central European traditional soup called borscht with Jewish matzah. Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to explore the origins of these two distinctive dishes.

The exact origin of borscht is unclear, but it emerged as a staple for the same reason that many foods came to be important in ancient civilizations around the world: it was cheap and easy to make. Originally, borscht was made from beets that were abundant in the Ukraine where the soup is said to have its roots. It is interesting to note that some say borscht was made in ancient Rome where beets were a dietary staple, but there is no direct evidence to prove this theory.[3] Over the years, borscht took different forms as cooks added whatever other vegetables were available. Today there are different varieties of borscht such as orange borscht, which is tomato-based, and green borscht, which uses a spinach or sorrel base.

Matzah has a long history reaching back to the original flight of the Israelites from Egypt. When they were expelled from Egypt after the ravages of the tenth plague, the Israelites did not have time to prepare bread to take on the journey into the desert. Instead, the Israelites carried with them unleavened bread made from a mixture of flour and water. This original matzah recipe has remained unchanged for thousands of years.  Jews honor their ancestors and this historic period by eating only matzah during Passover. While many Jews follow the strict rabbinic laws that say matzah must be hand-made, hand-kneaded and plain with no additional flavorings, there are other options for those who prefer a slightly different taste.  Nowadays, one can buy onion matzah, everything matzah and even gluten-free matzah.

Today’s recipe, Green Borscht with Matzah, is courtesy of Valeria Khaimov-Levitsky from Kyrgyzstan. She learned the recipe from her late mother-in-law Batsheva KhaimovIt and says that Passover to her is all about passing down family traditions.[4]

So enjoy this recipe born from ancient origins.  And with each spoonful, appreciate how deliciously it combines two foods representing centuries of sustenance and tradition.

Green Borscht With Matzah

Ingredients

  • Chicken, 2 lbs.
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 medium-size onions
  • 4 large potatoes
  • 3 eggs
  • Sorrel, one bunch
  • Green coriander (cilantro), one bunch chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • Matzah, 5 to 10 pieces

Instructions

  1. Cut chicken into cubes and finely chop the onions. Add them into a pot with hot oil. Fry until slightly golden.
  2. While meat is frying, cut potatoes into cubes.
  3. Add eight and a half cups of water to the cooked chicken and onions, and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes.
  4. Add potatoes to the pot and boil for another five minutes.
  5. Cut sorrel and add to the pot. Add salt to taste and boil until potatoes are done.
  6. Beat eggs.
  7. Add beaten eggs into the boiling soup while stirring thoroughly, then add coriander and turn off the heat.
  8. Serve with small pieces of broken matzah.

[1] Exodus 12, The Bible, New International Version

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/passover-seders-move-to-nights-that-work-for-busy-lives/2014/04/13/3eca9316-c106-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html

[3] http://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/borshch/

[4] http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2014/04/10/more-passover-recipes-from-around-the-globe/

May Is AntiquityNOW Month! Join the Celebration!

AN Month bigWhen we considered a commemoration in 2013, we asked ourselves a question:  Why have an AntiquityNOW month?   The answer was in our mission: to show how antiquity’s legacy influences us today and for generations to come.  So for the month of May, we will laud human endeavor through the ages and mark the importance of our world heritage. Continue reading

Music Origins: Mesopotamia, American Gospel and the Neurology of Faith, Part II

Image courtesy of Andrew Newberg, NPR.

Image courtesy of Andrew Newberg, NPR.

In Part I we looked at the importance of music in Mesopotamia and its specific role in communing with the gods. Fast forwarding nearly four millennia we found a remarkable similarity in the strains of American gospel music and the belief that the ecstasy of song enables the Holy Spirit to enter the bodies of the faithful. What is the nature of this willingness to give up one’s self to a higher being? How does music play a part? Is rapture—a potent driving force among believers—real?  Let’s look further at the reason for this music/spiritual connection by venturing inside the anatomy of the brain and as well exploring humankind’s long and precarious evolution of mind and body. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month

grilled cheeseCheese, cheese, glorious cheese! Cubed, shredded, sliced or melted, with more than 1,400 varieties, cheese can be savored and enjoyed in countless ways. This month is dedicated to one very special cheese-related recipe. April is National Grilled Cheese Month and we’re bringing you a scrumptious (and deliciously gooey) grilled cheese recipe. But first, let’s take a look at the long and storied history of the ingredient that makes this celebration possible. Continue reading

Music Origins: Mesopotamia, American Gospel and the Neurology of Faith, Part I

Mesopotamia instrumentsThrough the centuries many forms of music have arisen out of mystical or spiritual ardor:  Indian ragas, Japanese Shinto music, Madih nabawi or Arabic hymns, the classic liturgical anthems of Europe and American gospel.  Whether by the pounding of drums or the sonorous stones of Stonehenge or the arpeggios echoing against ancient cathedral walls, worship through music has defined civilizations from early times.  What is this power in music that moves humans to seek their deities in notes, rhythms and sounds? Let’s look at two very different cultures with surprisingly similar perspectives. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Celebrate Ancient Grilling with Double K Grilled Salmon

double k grilled salmon

Image courtesy of Taste of Home.

It’s spring! The sun is finally awakening from its chilled slumber, snows are melting and warm winds are ushering in the new season. It’s time to head outside, fire up the grill and invite your friends and family over for a barbecue. Did you know that when those coals heat up and the smell of your repast wafts through the air, you’ll be reviving a gastronomic practice thousands of years old? Recent archaeological finds have uncovered proof that some ancient people used this very method of preparing food. In honor of this discovery, we’re featuring a flavorful salmon recipe that will do your grill proud. Continue reading

The Strange and Mysterious Origins of April Fools’ Day

aril foolsIt’s April Fools’ Day and whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a joke, today will hopefully be a day for laughter and good-natured conviviality. This holiday has a strange history that may reach all the way back to antiquity. Before the foolishness ensues, let’s take a minute to learn how this celebration began.

The most widely accepted origin of April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, comes from 16th century France when the calendar was changed so that New Year’s Day was celebrated on January 1st (according to the Roman calendar) as opposed to celebrating New Year’s in late March or early April with the advent of spring. Not everyone learned of the change right away and people in the country, far from the cities, would have still celebrated a spring New Year. These people were mocked and called fools. However, Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California and an authority on April Fools’ Day, disputes this theory. Continue reading

Tattoos and the Body as Canvas

celtic knot tattoo

UPDATE!   This post was originally published on March 14, 2013. One year later and ancient tattoos are back in the news due to a fascinating find and an exciting exhibit at the British Museum. Eight mummies from Egypt and Sudan have been subjected to CAT scanning, infra-red “reflectography” and carbon dating in an effort to develop a more complete picture of their ancient lives for the new exhibit called Ancient Lives: New Discoveries. The scanning has revealed previously unseen features from beneath their wrappings. One of the most interesting discoveries is a tattoo on the inner thigh of a 1,300 year old female mummy. The tattoo represents the symbol of the Archangel Michael and spells out in ancient Greek M-I-X-A-H-A (Michael). According to an article by Robert Mendick in The Telegraph, the woman was 20-35 years of age, died in about 700 CE and “lived in a Christian community on the banks of the Nile.”[1] Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Sabzi Polo Mahi in Honor of Persian New Year

White_house_haft_seenLast Thursday, March 20th, marked the much anticipated first day of spring. At 12:57 pm ET, the sun crossed the equator and the vernal equinox arrived. Many people cheered as winter met its official end, but the date had special significance for Persians. It was the beginning of the Persian New Year or Nowruz, a time for dancing, celebrating and most importantly, feasting! Each year the holiday begins with a special meal enjoyed around the haftseen table, where the foods are symbolic and abundant. In recognition of 2014’s haftseen table, we’re giving you a delicious Persian recipe from this traditional meal that you can enjoy in your home year-round. It’s never too late to celebrate and learn about the cuisine of an ancient culture! Continue reading