Hot cross buns are loved by all the family at this time of year, in the run up to Easter. Waking up and having them toasted for breakfast is something of an Easter tradition for lots of people, but how did the hot cross bun become a traditional food for Good Friday?
Let’s go a long way back in time, to when paganism was a religion with many followers. Pagans worshipped Eostre, the goddess of dawn and spring. As spring arrived, the pagans would celebrate a month long festival of the transitioning time from winter entering into spring. This festival saw the Saxons making buns marked with a cross, which represented the four phases of the moon, to offer to the goddess. Eostre is where we get the modern day name of Easter.
When Christianity became Britain’s main religion, pagan ways were banished – including those of Eostre. Leaders of the Christian faith soon realised they could incorporate the celebrations of Eostre into their own religion, which also featured a celebration of their own at a similar time of year. Although the actual reasoning behind the Eostre celebrations wouldn’t be carried over to the Christian ways, the buns the pagans used were. The cross would now symbolise the cross Jesus was crucified upon, and not the four phases of the moon.
Hot cross buns hold something of superstitions too. It was believed if you were to bake a hot cross bun or bread on Good Friday then it wouldn’t become mouldy, and if you were to hang it in your house then this would ward off any bad luck the future year may bring, and also help protect the house from fire. Sailors would take hot cross buns upon their ships to help prevent the vessel from shipwreck.
Surprisingly, hot cross buns were also seen to hold medicinal purposes. If you were to give a person who is ill a hot cross bun then they were thought to get better, or you could finely grate the bun and mix it with water to help a person get better.
During the Tudor time these spiced buns become really popular, and during Elizabeth I’s reign, she introduced a law that these buns were only to be made on special occasions such as burials, Christmas and Good Friday. Therefore, the only way for one to enjoy these baked goods was to make them at home, enabling people to eat them all year round. Even James the First tried to stop the buns and spiced bread from being made, but this was impossible to enforce, and so bakers were allowed to make them.
Traditionally nowadays, hot cross buns are seen on the supermarket shelves and in the bakeries for us to enjoy from around February until after Easter.
Next time you’re having a hot cross bun for breakfast, whether it is a traditional recipe bun or one with orange and cranberry in it, or even spiked with chocolatey flavour, just remember how far it has come and what transitions it has gone through. From being an offering to the Eostre goddess, to being lucky and even medicinal.
So here’s to the good old hot cross bun, a bun that has been through a lot, yet Easter just wouldn’t be the same without it.