Hot Cross Buns
A surviving British Easter custom is the eating of ‘‘hot cross
buns’’—spiced currant cakes with a cross marked on the top. In
former times, the bun vendors were a familiar feature of street
life on Good Friday, with their cry of ‘‘Hot cross buns, one a
penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!’’ In modern times, the buns
are sold from bakeries well before the Easter holiday.
Although the cross symbolized the Crucifixion, it had a
more ancient origin. The cross was also a pagan symbol, and
it was used by the Anglo-Saxons to indicate the four seasons on
loaves baked for the vernal equinox and to discourage evil spirits
that might prevent bread from rising.
As a Christian symbol, the buns derive from the ecclesiastical
consecrated loaves given in churches as alms and to those
who could not take communion. They were given by the priest
to the people after the Mass, before the congregation was dismissed.
They were to be kissed before being eaten.
In the 1660s, the spiced loaves were prohibited as ‘‘popish,’’
but allowed on Good Friday for the Easter celebrations. Spiced
buns replaced the loaves after the Restoration.