A CHURCH HOUSE critique of the National Trust’s annual Easter egg hunt has met with both criticism and support.
The Telegraph reported on Tuesday that the event was being marketed on the charity’s website as the “Cadbury Egg hunt”. It had previously been described as the “National Trust Easter Egg Trail Supported by Cadbury”.
A spokesperson for the C of E drew on the heritage of Cadbury to criticise the decision: “Alongside the Rowntrees and Frys, the Cadburys were motivated by their Christian faith to be champions of social reform. . . Their faith and their work were inseparable. This marketing campaign not only does a disservice to the Cadburys but also highlights the folly in airbrushing faith from Easter.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also cited the company’s history, arguing that, for the founder, “Jesus and justice were two sides of the one coin. To drop Easter from Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt in my book is tantamount to spitting on the grave of Cadbury. Maybe everyone should now buy The Real Easter Egg.”
Within hours, the Prime Minister, currently visiting Saudi Arabia, had entered the fray.
“I’m not just a vicar’s daughter, I’m a member of the National Trust as well,” Theresa May 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.”
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, commented: “I think it’s commercialisation gone a bit too far. It upsets me because I don’t think Cadbury’s should take over the name.”
However, Esther McConnell, a descendant of John Cadbury, tweeted in response: “I’m sure John Cadbury (my g. g. g. g. grandfather) is not spinning in his grave. As a Quaker, he didn’t celebrate Easter.”
She told the BBC: “He believed that every day is equally sacred and, back then, this was expressed by not marking festivals.”
A spokesperson for the National Trust said that it was “in no way downplaying the significance of Easter”, and spoke of the “huge number of events, activities and walks to bring families together at this time of year,” adding: “We work closely with Cadbury, who are responsible for the branding and wording of our egg-hunt campaign.”
A few hours after the Telegraph story was published, the Trust’s website changed, from “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunts” to “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunts this Easter.”
A spokesperson for Cadbury said that its Easter campaigns had a different name each year. “It is simply not true to claim that Easter does not feature in our marketing communications or on our products. It is clear to see that within our communications we visibly state the word 'Easter’. . .
“We want to reassure consumers of our commitment to Easter, which is very prominent within our activity. We will continue to use ‘Easter’ prominently in our commercial campaigns as we do now and in the future.”
The Church’s intervention prompted mixed reactions. James Lee, a member of the General Synod, described it as “both unnecessary and counterproductive. It’s unnecessary, as there is little to suggest that either Cadbury or the National Trust were seeking to downplay Easter anyway, and it’s counterproductive in that the Church ends up looking silly for caring more about Easter eggs and bunnies than the actual content of the Easter story.”
“Sometimes people remove religious references because they mistakenly believe others could be offended, but it is not clear that happened here,” said Stephen Beer, political communications officer of Christians on the Left. “After all, the two organisations continued to refer prominently to Easter.
“In any event, it is more important to talk about the meaning of Easter, which is not about eggs. Easter is about the cross and resurrection, about repentance and forgiveness, grace and a new creation. Our public life and politics could certainly do with a bit more grace, and the spirit of Easter hope, at the moment.”
Dr Michael Sadgrove, a former Dean of Durham, defended the Church House intervention. “Names help define us and affirm our identity,” he said. “In a historically Christian country, the names of our festivals belong to our cultural legacy.
“Caring for our heritage is not just a matter of historic buildings and beautiful landscapes. It includes the ‘intangible values’ that make heritage a living thing, a story that belongs to people down the ages whose communities, cultures and spiritualities are embodied in what we inherit from the past.
“It’s eccentric to speak of egg hunts, belonging to a long English tradition of seasonal rituals, without using the familiar name ‘Easter’ to describe them. Of course that name is pagan in origin, but that, too, is part of the cultural legacy we should treasure, as is the history of how Christian faith in these islands came to adopt that name for the feast of the resurrection.”
The decision to excise “Easter” might suggest that secular organisations could be “needlessly anxious about getting entangled with religion”, he said. “Actually, in diverse modern Britain, people of other faiths almost always welcome evidence that we take our own faith seriously. And plenty of atheists and agnostics do not want to give up on a culturally defined Christmas and Easter that derives from our native traditions.”
He went on: “I’d like to think that Cadburys and the National Trust, both of whom owe so much to Christian insights, shared the Church’s concern to help people enter into the spirit of this season by honouring its historic name. This would, I think, add to the enjoyment of the Easter Egg Hunt, not diminish it: we tend to value what we can make sense of, and connect with the rest of our life. Insofar as the C of E is one of the guardians of the nation’s Christian traditions, it was right to draw attention to the loss of something special in rebranding the event.
“But having made the point, we shouldn’t obsess about it. The best witness to Easter is to celebrate the resurrection in a joyful and inspiring way. And in our celebrations, Easter egg hunts should play a happy part."