Hot Cross Buns Offer Tasty Teaching About Easter

Hot Cross Buns Offer Tasty Teaching About Easter April 1, 2024

Close up picture of a bun with cross on its top
Hot cross buns are traditional Easter fare [Photo by John Cutting on Unsplash]
For Americans, Easter evokes thoughts of eating a ham dinner and indulging in chocolate candy shaped like eggs and bunnies. But another food, hot cross buns, boasts a long history with the religious holiday. Indeed, hot cross buns offer tasty teaching about Easter.

What’s A Hot Cross Bun?

Truth in advertising prevails with a hot cross bun. The spiced bun, normally eaten while warm—often toasted with butter—bears a cross on top. Some describe it as a mix between a sweet pastry and a dinner roll.

These yeasted sweet buns contain spices, like cinnamon, and various fruits such as currants, raisins, and/or candied citrus. Heavier in texture than a slice of bread, these buns are thick.

When Are They Eaten?

Although tasty any time of the year, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, the United States, and the Commonwealth Caribbean among other locations. Their consumption marks the end of the Lenten season, breaking the fast required of Christians. Even where not connected to a religious meaning, the baked good remains a special Easter tradition.

Close-up illustration of Jesus on the cross from the neck to the top of his head
The cross on hot cross buns reminds that Jesus died by crucifixion [Photo by Robert Allmann on Pixabay]
For centuries, citizens of the British Commonwealth have eaten hot cross buns in connection with the celebration of Easter. The beloved Good Friday treat sold on English streets became the basis for a familiar nursery rhyme and song, “Hot Cross Buns.”  Today, however, these buns are available the entire year in some locations, including the UK. Australia limits the sale of the treat to a specific period relative to Easter though. Sales of an estimated 20 million packs of these buns annually in the UK emphasize the sweet bread’s popularity.

Why Eat Them At Easter?

Without using words, all parts of the hot cross bun relate elements of the Easter story. Just one glance at the baked good offers an immediate message. Topped with a cross, it references Jesus’ death by crucifixion.  The white cross on the bun’s top may be made with icing, marked into the dough, or formed with extra dough laid in strips.

The filling of the bun continues the Easter story. The addition of orange peel in some recipes reflects the bitterness of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Spices used to make the bread, such as cinnamon, represent the embalming spices applied to His body for embalming in preparation for burial. Finally, the addition of fruits such as candied citrus or raisins, indicate believers no longer have to eat plain food for fasting as they did during Lent.

Plate with wooden cross, glass of water, and 2 small pieces of bread on it
Eating hot cross buns on Good Friday symbolized the end of the Lenten fast [Image by congerdesign on Pixabay]

History of Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns received their first mention in literature in 1773’s Poor Robin’s Almanack. Nevertheless, the general concept of a sweet bun decorated with or containing religious symbols stems from ancient times. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans embraced the practice of making such bread. In fact, the Greek word “boun,” meaning breads and cakes used for ceremonial purposes, provides the root from which the English word “bun” derives. Archaeologists’ excavation of the Roman city of Herculaneum, in ruins since 79 CE, uncovered two small loaves of bread marked with crosses on top.

During the Middle Ages, people commonly sharing sweet sacrifices with the gods. But in 1361, an English monk, Brother Thomas Rocliffe of St. Albans Abbey, created a sweet-tasting yeast bun with a cross cut into its top. He distributed this baked good, called an Alban Bun, to the poor on Good Friday.

Ban On Buns

By the 1ate 1500s the idea hot cross buns held magical powers , such as warding off evil spirits, preventing kitchen fires, and ensuring perfectly baked bread took hold. Queen Elizabeth I restricted their sale to Good Friday, Christmas, and funerals ostensibly to prevent the magic from being abused. Unable to purchase hot cross buns, many of her subjects began baking these buns at home.

The religious division of the day may, however, be the real reason for the ban imposed instead of preventing abuse of magic. At that time, England’s transformation from a Catholic to a Protestant country was underway. More likely, the ban on buns served as an effort to control an item viewed as “too Catholic.”

Coffee cup with hot cross buns to right and knife lying next to plate with split bun which has been buttered
Hot cross buns offer tasty teaching about Easter [Picture by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash}

Multitasking At Mealtime

With ancient roots, the hot cross bun survives to this day, but perhaps with a different recipe and meaning. If nothing else, the sweet bun’s history provides a wonderful topic of conversation during a meal. Although tied to Good Friday consumption in the past, any time is a good time to eat delicious hot cross buns and reflect on the Easter story they tell. Not only can these baked items fill bellies, but they fill the soul with the reminder of the work Jesus accomplished by His death at Easter to provide for man’s salvation. Hot cross buns offer tasty teaching about Easter.

About Alice H Murray
After 35 years as a Florida adoption attorney, Alice H. Murray now pursues a different path as Operations Manager for End Game Press. With a passion for writing, she is constantly creating with words. Her work includes contributions to several Short And Sweet books, The Upper Room, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Abba’s Lessons (from CrossRiver Media), and the Northwest Florida Literary Review. Alice is a regular contributor to GO!, a quarterly Christian magazine in the Florida Panhandle, and she has three devotions a month published online by Dynamic Women in Missions. Her devotions have also appeared in compilation devotionals such as Ordinary People Extraordinary God (July 2023) and Guideposts’ Pray A Word A Day, Vol. 2 (June 2023) and pray a word for Hope (September 2023). Alice’s first book, The Secret of Chimneys, an annotated Agatha Christie mystery, was released in April 2023 with a second such book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, to be released in April 2025. On a weekly basis, Alice posts on her blog about current events with a humorous point of view at You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives