Hot Cross Buns- A History

Traditionally eaten on Good Friday- Hot cross buns, with their combination of spicy, sweet and fruity flavours have long been an Easter tradition.

Offering Bread to mark the arrival of Spring goes as far back as the Ancient Greeks who baked small loaves of bread with crosses, and similarly, the Egyptians who marked their bread with the image of ox horns to Sefkhet – the goddess of the moon.


Tsourek- Greek Easter Bread- with dyed red eggs to represent the blood of Christ

The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake bread at the beginning of spring in honour of the Eostre – the goddess of spring and fertility- the source of our word Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter- symbolising the four quarters of the moon, the four seasons, and the wheel of life.

The Christians interpreted the cross as a representation of the crucifixion, and as with many other pre-Christian traditions, they replaced the pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter.

But it wasn’t until the Tudor period that the hot cross bun was permanently linked to Christian celebrations.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of the spiced buns except at burials, Christmas, or on Good Friday; no doubt this cemented the tradition of eating Hot cross buns at this time of year.

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‘Hot’ cross Buns-Toasted with Butter

The first recorded reference to the Hot Cross Buns was in ‘Poor Robin’s Almanac’ in the early 1700s:

‘Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns.’

This satirical rhyme was also probably the inspiration of the commonly known street vendors cry:
‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
 Superstitions and Legends
Over the centuries the hot cross bun has developed many superstitions and legends. It was popularly believed that a bun baked on Good Friday would never go mouldy, and if  hung in the kitchen it would improve a cook’s baking.
Sailors would take the buns to sea hoping they might ward off shipwreck. There’s a pub called The Widow’s Son– a historic grade II listed pub in Bow, East London, named after a woman who lived in a cottage on the site in the 1820s.



Legend has it that the old widow’s only son left to go to sea- possibly during the Napoleonic Wars. He wrote to her explaining that he would be returning home at Easter and to have a nice hot cross bun waiting for him. Sadly, he never returned, but his mother continued to keep a fresh hot cross bun every Good Friday for the rest of her life.

Sailors from HMS President Naval Reserve add a new bun to the stale collection.

Every Good Friday, a dozen or so members of the Royal Navy present the pub with a large hot cross bun in memory of the lost sailor. A net of hot cross buns hangs above the bar and each year a sailor comes to add another bun to the collection, and FREE hot cross buns for anyone who drops in for a drink!

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