When Hot-Cross Buns Were Banned

Hang them in your kitchen and all of your breads will turn out fine. Take them aboard your boat and you will never be shipwrecked. And if you share them with a friend your friendship will remain strong. They even make you better if you are ill. Mmm…hot-cross buns.

My day started with lovely hot-cross buns covered with lots and lots of butter. Like so many other people, I suppose, they have been part of my Easter tradition all of my life. I cannot imagine Good Friday or Easter without them. Warm with currants, sweet spices and a cross on the top, how could buns offend anyone?

As always in history though, there were times when they were banned. In 1592 a law was passed forbidding the sale of spiced breads unless it was for funerals, Good Friday or Christmas. That’s probably why the buns are related to Easter celebrations as they were eaten by everyone then. Christmas has so many other goodies on offer and who wants to only have ‘funeral’ food?

The connections to healing and superstition were thought to be pagan and Queen Elizabeth wanted to stamp that out. The history goes back a long time, through Celtic and Greek culture and the symbolism of the cross has represented different things. For some it showed the phases of the moon or the four seasons and somehow putting the cross on a bun harnessed the power of nature.

During King James I’s reign another attempt to ban the hot-cross bun took place. But, as with all good or enjoyable things, it served only to push the production of the buns underground. People stopped buying them in markets and from vendors on street corners and simply made them at home. They were only openly consumed during the permitted times but hot-cross buns are far to good to become extinct. The cleverer missionaries realised that the cross could also apply to the crucifixion of Jesus rendering the bun holy.

Of course the restrictions on spiced breads are no longer enforced but the tradition has stuck. Something nice to look forward to besides chocolate. Chocolate Easter eggs. That’s another story…


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