Traditions: Hot Cross Buns

I don’t blog on Sundays, but Christ is risen.

Religious Easter traditions are even more elusive and less uniform than Christian traditions.  Some of the traditions my family follows are our own inventions.  There are various types of “empty tomb” breakfast treats for Sunday morning, but our simple version (a donut with a donut hole placed in the middle) seems to be unique to us.  About the only one that I know has actual history is the hot cross bun.

This spiced bun with raisins and a frosted cross is hard to find down here, so we baked our own.  Almost everyone we gave them to was only familiar with the song played in elementary school recorder classes.  Like most other old-fashioned Christian traditions, they just don’t feel very American.  They are, however, very tasty.

The symbolism of the bun is straightforward enough, but its history is hazy.  Some people place their origins in pre-Christian Europe, where the cross represented the four quarters of the moon, but that sounds like folk history to me.  The OED only pegs the name as about 300 years old; the bun itself is probably much older.  Despite their popularity in England, it seems to be a Catholic tradition, but this is odd:  Traditional Lenten observance would have precluded eating a sweet pastry in Lent, and especially on Good Friday, when they are traditionally served.  Were hot cross buns a special exception?  I don’t know.

If you didn’t get a hot cross bun this Good Friday or Easter, you’ve missed your opportunity.  They won’t be in stores for another year (of course you can still bake your own, but it would be against the spirit of things).  If it makes you feel any better, one of our friends can sympathize: having given up sweets for Lent, he saved his bun until Easter…whereupon he discovered that one of his housemates had eaten it.

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Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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