Hot Cross Buns

In modern times, what was once simply known as the cross bun has been reduced to a highly commercialised commodity, usually on sale in supermarkets long before Easter, and on many occasions, still on bakery shelves long after the religious festival has passed. The ‘hot’ was added to make the attraction more mouth-watering.

Cross buns, as a symbol of the Crucifixion, were traditionally only eaten on Good Friday or the Day of the Cross. However, current cross buns go back a long way and are related to the archaic sacred cakes and consecrated breads offered to deities at religious festivals in different cultures. Breads and small cakes have always been important in early forms of worship. In the rites of Isis, in ancient Egypt, sacrificial cakes made from the purest and most delectable ingredients were on sale outside the temples. The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, notes the sacrificial offering of breads: ‘And when we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven, [...], did we make her cakes to worship her,117 [...]’. 

Cross buns originally took the form of wheat cakes baked with fine flour and honey for eating during pagan spring festivals in the Northern Hemisphere. The ancient Greeks stamped each piece of bread with a horned symbol, representing the new moon, as an offering to the moon-goddess. The horned symbol might have given rise to the English word bun from the term boun, Greek for ox. Eventually, this symbol evolved into a cross, representing the Crucifixion and commemorating the unleavened bread that Christ shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. 

An alternative explanation given for the cross on the cross bun is that it was a pre-Christian symbol signifying the quarters of the moon in honour of the moon-deity invariably representing fertility.

Many superstitions have been linked to the cross bun, and it has long symbolised good fortune. A popular custom was to keep one or two cross buns after Good Friday and hang them in the home. This bun was believed to have magical powers and to act as a charm against evil influences throughout the year. Being as hard as a rock after some weeks, it probably made a handy missile as well!


This is a web preview of the "Strange but True: A Historical Background to Popular Beliefs and Traditions" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App