I just finished mixing up my dough. In the almost six years that I’ve been here at St. Anne’s, it’s become tradition that I make hot cross buns to serve for our residents’ snack on Holy Thursday afternoon. Actually, they have traditionally been a food for Lent and Good Friday especially. However, serving a special homemade treat seems more appropriate, to us here, for Holy Thursday rather than during the solemn fasting of Good Friday. Also, Holy Thursday is the day we gratefully remember the first Eucharist, when Christ gave the “Bread from Heaven” for the first time. To me, it seems fitting that residents enjoy these little breads on that day.
This time of the liturgical year is busy and a bit stressful since I serve as sacristan here, but I still like to take the time to make Hot Cross Buns. It’s a kind of neat way of keeping our Catholic cultural traditions alive. I must confess, I’ve usually cheated in the past, using frozen sweet bread dough, but this year I’m doing them from scratch! I blame it, in part, on last month’s pretzel-making. I have a few yeast packets left over that I might as well use up. My other reason for not “cheating” this year is the hope that the raisins will stay in place better if I can knead them right in as I mix the dough. In the past, I’ve had some of them pop out and there would be raisins left on the pans. 🙂
I’d like to share some history about Hot Cross Buns which I found some years back. I regret that I no longer have the source(s) to document.
Hot cross buns have quite a history, within Christianity and even mixed with pagan traditions (Incan, Egyptians, Saxons and possibly even Roman roots). As with many things, the church adopted Hot Cross Buns during their early missionary efforts to pagan cultures. They re-interpreted the “cross” of icing which adorns the bun to signify the cross of Jesus.” The practice of eating special small cakes at the time of the Spring festival seems to date back at least to the ancient Greeks.”
One source noted the Christian roots in the 1100s when a monk placed the sign of the cross on buns to honor Good Friday, known at that time as the “Day of the Cross.” Another source dates this event to the 1300s. “Hot cross buns” became popular in England and Ireland, and later in the United States.
These buns have an interesting connection with the persecution of Catholics in 16th century England. When Catholicism was banned, people could be tried for “Popery” because they marked the cross on their Good Friday buns. They came up with an excuse for continuing the practice, saying that it was necessary so for the buns to properly rise.
One thing connected with this history which I found especially interesting follows: It was a universal custom (and still is in Catholic countries) to mark a new loaf of bread with the sign of the cross before cutting it, in order to bless it and thank God for it. What a neat custom!