Cultural Importance of Chocolate

Do you see any connection between Easter, Valentine’s Day, Diwali, Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Mexico’s Day of the Dead? They’re all celebrated with chocolate.

Though cacao is no longer used as money, it still plays a dominant role in cultures around the world even today. Chocolate features in holidays and special occasions.

The Maya celebrated an annual festival to honor their cacao god, Ek Chuah, an event that included animal sacrifices with cacao-colored markings, offerings of cacao, feathers and incense; and an exchange of gifts. Chocolate drinks were used in betrothal and marriage ceremonies by the Mayans.

The Aztecs are believed to have fed their sacrificial victims chocolate beverages to calm them before the sacrifice. Chocolate was intertwined into the Christian traditions during the 17th to 19th centuries.

During 20th century, American chocolatiers started the gift/coin concept by creating chocolate gelt. An American company named Loft’s produced the first chocolate gelt, wrapped in gold or silver foil in mesh pouches resembling money bags. Others followed them. In Belgium and the Netherlands, Chocolate ‘geld’ is given to children as part of the St. Nicholas holiday. Usually, the “gold” coins are milk chocolate and the “silver” coins are white chocolate.

It was in early 1800’s that the first chocolate Easter eggs appeared in Germany and France and soon spread to the rest of Europe and beyond. The first chocolate eggs were solid. Hollow eggs came later. The discovery of the modern chocolate making process, mechanisation and improved mass manufacturing methods paved the way to the hollow, moulded Chocolate Easter Egg, which become the Easter gift of choice in many parts of Europe, and by the 1960’s it was well established worldwide.

In Mexico, hot chocolate accompany festive foods for two Christian holidays, the 12 Days of Christmas and Candlemas. Mexicans celebrate Dia de la Muertos (Day of the Dead) from October 31 to November 2 by giving balls, bars and drinks of chocolate to friends and family and honoring the departed souls with chocolate offerings.

In a town in Central Sulawesi in Indonesia, it’s easy to see how much the cacao farmers value cacao. They have built a statue that is nearly 20 feet high, simply a pair of hands holding a cacao pod. In many cocoa farming villages, drying the beans is done as a collective effort, with farming families gathering to turn the beans and visit with one another.

In the modern world, many of the chocolate dollars spent go toward celebrating holidays, to bring home Valentine’s hearts or Easter bunnies, Halloween candy, Diwali sweets, chocolate Santas or Hanukkah gelt. Now, do you see the connection between celebrations around the world and chocolate?

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