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Saturday, 13 February 2016 20:56

Hot cross buns before Valentine's Day

Written by Brendan Ihmig

I can still remember, as a child growing up in South Africa, how the bakery down the road from our house, would have this unmistakable, sweet and cinnamon spiced whiff at a very particular time of the year. It was the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns and it was only present once a year and lasted no longer than 2-3 weeks (if my memory serves me correctly). Our family would usually only have hot cross buns over the Easter long weekend and it was something I always looked forward to (and still do).

So, imagine my surprise when I walked into a supermarket this week and found the same distinct aroma coming from its bakery. Hot cross buns where available and it was the week before Valentine's Day. Its only February and Easter is almost two whole months away! This got me thinking about some hard truths about traditions, beliefs and the commercialization of both.

I always knew that hot cross buns were a symbolic bun that was used to mark Easter and that the 'cross' decoration on top of them symbolizes the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified (basically the reason for Easter). It was only after researching these little tasty buns, which are possibly my favorite type of buns, did I realize that there is actually a lot of rather interesting history behind them. Here are some interesting facts I found out:

  • The spices used in baking hot cross buns are symbolic of the spices used to prepare Jesus's body for burial.
  • Historically in Christian countries, plain buns made without dairy products (forbidden in Lent until Palm Sunday) are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning with the evening of Shrove Tuesday (the evening before Ash Wednesday) to midday Good Friday (reason for not traditionally being available long before Easter).
  • Traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, Canada, and India, but surprisingly not traditionally in the USA.
  • The actual origin of hot cross buns is not know and there are many theories as to when they were first baked.
  • During the Elizabethan era (1558–1603) a decree was issues forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas.
  • There are a good number of interesting superstitions surrounding these crossed cakes, including one that says that if taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck.
  • There are various variations of the recipe including: chocolate, toffee, coffee and orange-cranberry.
  • 'Not cross buns' are a real thing.

Burial spices

Reminder of spices given for Jesus's burial Read More

Buns for sale

Hot Cross Bun Seller in 18th century London Read More

Not cross buns

The Not Cross Bun was first created in 2014 Read More
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The truth that I (once again) realized, is that commercialization is ruthless in its way of profiting off of religious beliefs and traditions and by so doing, it dilutes and almost nullifies the original meaning behind the traditions and symbolism that were originally connected to them.

All this is very unfortunate if you have religious beliefs and try to hold onto traditions that carry meaningful symbolism. It will become ever more increasingly difficult to pass these traditions onto the next generation as much of the meaning is lost to profits and commercial gain. Just as Christmas has practically lost any significant meaning, relating to the birth of Christ, and is now just about nothing more than a holiday season of excess, so too has Easter lost all meaning related to Christ with its bunny chocolates and marshmallow eggs.

Now, I happen to really enjoy hot cross buns so, I am rather thrilled they are available for more than just two or three weeks of the year. I just wish they came not at the expense of their original significant symbolism. With all this said, why not take the time, leading up to Easter to perfect baking your own hot cross buns. HERE is a link for a more traditional hot cross buns recipe or you can watch the baking tutorial below by Laura Vitale, which has a slightly different take on traditional hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns recipe with Laura Vitale


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