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Patrick O’Shea: Hot cross bun heretics must wait until the resurrection

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When is it OK to begin feasting on hot cross buns? Photo: Unsplash
When is it OK to begin feasting on hot cross buns? Photo: Unsplash

There’s no denying the delight of biting into your first hot cross bun of the year. Yet there’s the debate of when to start eating them. Is it as soon as the shops start selling them? Is it Ash Wednesday? Is it Good Friday? Is it Easter Sunday?

To cut through all the discourse, perhaps I can offer a sweet remedy to begin the debate all over again. I know many of you will disagree—good thing for me I’m the one writing and you’re the one reading.

Just like Cordelia from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, I look forward to the Good Friday liturgies of the 3pm and Tenebrae—a series of psalms and chants reflecting the church’s sorrow at the death of Our Lord.

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As I’m starving during both liturgies, my mind drifts between the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the reproaches, and craving hot cross buns.

I don’t know if it’s the sweetness of the fruit they put in them, or the cushy dough they use for the bread; I always look forward to them every year. I’m sure Our Lord can forgive my wandering mind during Good Friday.

One of the chants from the 3pm liturgy, particularly, sings “hot cross buns” for me. It’s the Crux Fidelis—or Faithful Cross (I hope you can see where I’m going with this).

There’s a line in the chorus in reference to the cross and the nails that goes, “sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear!”

Historically, this is why hot cross buns have been sweet—to symbolise the sweetness of our redemption, the sweetness of the cross.

Traditionally, hot cross buns have also included spices, which represent the spices used to embalm Our Lord.

So, not only does the cross on the buns directly reference the crucifixion, but the spices symbolise his embalmment, and the fruit, the sweetness of the resurrection. Hot cross buns have been designed with the paschal triduum in mind.

This is why I’m a staunch “Good Friday onwards” man. I know many people in the office and among my friends who begin munching on them during Lent or, God forbid, on New Year’s Day!

It just irks me. I know we need to respect other’s choices, but I stand proudly in my camp. No hot cross buns until Good Friday. And at that point, why not just stick it out until Easter? Maybe it’s everyone else’s early hot cross buns’ smell wafting through the office that makes me crave them during Good Friday. Regardless, there’s a time and a place for them and now is not quite the time.

Can we eat them throughout the year? By all means! Shops, please sell more of them—just without the crosses. Just call them “not-cross buns.”

So, when is it best to begin eating hot cross buns? I’d wager on or after Good Friday. It makes no sense to begin chowing down on these delectable goodies representing the “crux dulcis” if we haven’t celebrated the Paschal Lamb yet!

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