The Oxford English Dictionary defines a hot cross bun or cross-bun as a sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced bun made with currants or raisins and candied citrus fruits or lemon zest, marked with a cross on the top.
The buns are now popular throughout the year, but Easter remains their best season for retailers, according to the BBC
Tesco, Britain's largest food retailer, will already have sold 70 million of them by the end of the Easter weekend. But it seems they are no longer limited to that particular Christian festival.
The supermarket giant has nine varieties of hot cross bun, including toffee, orange and cranberry, and apple and cinnamon. Of its nine varieties, three are on sale all year round.
In the United Kingdom the Church of England also sees a direct link between the hot cross bun and the Easter Festival. Speaking for the Church of England Steve Jenkins, says, "you have got the bread, as per the communion, you have got the spices that represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in in the tomb, and you have got the cross. They are fairly full of Christian symbolism."
Historically, many Christians have given up eggs and butter during Lent. It is for this reason that 'Pancake Tuesday' is traditionally the day before Lent and the fast is broken on Good Friday with hot cross buns; both contain eggs and butter
However, in 1912, The New York Times
traced them back to even earlier, pagan traditions
. The article notes that the Egyptians offered buns to the moon goddess as did the Greeks. Some sources suggest that the cross-like marking on the bun originally symbolized the four phases of the moon.
The earliest reference to the pastries in English is in Poor Robin's Almanak
, dated 1733:
Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.
Yesterday morning, the Daily Telegraph
featured a hot cross bun baked in 1821, the year Napoleon died. Ninety-one-year-old Nancy Titman
told the paper that this relic has been passed down ever since and it's never gotten moldy. It is rock hard and the currents have disintegrated, she said, but you can still see the shape of the cross.