5 Great Historical Myths And Traditions About Hot Cross Buns, a Pre-Easter Pastry

From solidifying friendships to driving evil spirits away, legends abound about these sweet dough balls

Photo: I Love Images/Corbis

Delicious hot cross buns—those doughy, raisin-studded delights—are traditionally eaten during Lent, especially in the week leading up to Easter. Marked with an icing or dough cross on top, they've been a holiday staple of some communities for centuries. (Versions of the hot cross bun even appeared in ancient Greece.) Given the baked good's long history, legends and superstitions have had ample time to develop and grow around them. Here are five favorites: 

A 12th-century monk was the first person to mark the bun with a cross.

This monk baked the buns on Good Friday, in honor of the upcoming Easter holiday, IrishCentral reports, and they soon gained popularity around England as a symbol of the holiday weekend. However, the first definite record of hot cross buns comes from a 16th and 17th century text stating: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns."

Nowadays the cross might be made of chocolate icing or cream, but, traditionally, it is made of a simple dough or just a knife imprint.

They stay fresh for a whole year.

If you hang a hot cross bun from your kitchen rafters on Good Friday, legend has it that the bread will remain fresh and mold-free throughout the entire year. This harkens back to the body of Christ, which, according to the Bible, did not show any signs of decay after his crucifixion and prior to his resurrection. The bun should be replaced each year on Good Friday. Later in the year, the buns were sometimes broken up, mixed with water and treated as a medicine, FoodTimeline reports

They expel bad spirits.

Due to the blessed cross on top, hot cross buns hung in the kitchen are supposed to protect from evil spirits. They're also said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out, and ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly delicious. Likewise, taking hot cross buns on a voyage at sea endows the boat with some protection from shipwreck, according to legend.

And cement friendships.

Those who share a hot cross bun are supposed to enjoy a strong friendship and bond for the next year. A line from an old rhyme captures this lore, says Irish Central: "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be." 

They're too sacred to eat any old day.

In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could no longer be sold on any day except for Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. They were simply too special to be eaten any other day. To get around this, FoodTimeline explains that people baked the buns in their own kitchens—although if they were caught they had to give up all of the illegal buns on their premises to the poor.

So, now you're chance to enjoy! You can buy them or make them at home.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.