What is it about these buns that makes us hot and cross?

Ash Wednesday fell on 2 March this year, which for Christians marks the start of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and sacrifice that ends on Good Friday, a solemn day on which the crucifixion of Jesus is commemorated by many with the consumption of hot cross buns.

In my childhood, growing up Catholic, we were never allowed to have a hot cross bun before Good Friday. But from that day on, it was a free-for-all and I’d devour as many as I could get away with.

Things are just a little different these days. Hot cross buns appear on shelves at Coles and Woolworths on the day after Christmas! Some years ago, letters to the editor began to appear in daily newspapers decrying this early onset of hot cross buns. As each year passed, it became almost a race to see who could report the earliest bun sighting.

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Then came social media, and the race became about being the first to tweet a hot cross bun sighting. In the post-Christmas period just past, I observed a new development – hot cross bun tweets that came out before Christmas! These were along the lines of, “Only 10 days until hot cross buns appear in supermarkets.”

For most, it’s all in good fun, but some of my (still practising Catholic) friends take the matter quite seriously. They take offence at the fact hot cross buns hit the shelves as soon as the Christmas presents have been unwrapped.

This does not appear to bother the major supermarkets. As the old saying goes, ‘Any publicity is good publicity’.

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When you think about it, though, it’s kind of a weird thing. It’s only the cross, two thin strips of pastry (or similar), that gives these buns a relevance to the crucifixion of Jesus. Even the removal of one of the strips would take away that symbol.

You could just get rid of the cross altogether and sell them all year round, couldn’t you? Mind you, marketing these cross-less treats could be problematic. The tagline, ‘Check out my hot buns’, may not convey the message some might think it does.

As an ex-Catholic, I can’t say the early sale of hot cross buns really bothers me (although their contribution to my expanding waistline does).

Having said that, there must be some elements of traditionalism that have stuck with me, because the number of variations on the hot cross bun theme these days drives me crazy! First came the chocolate variety. That just seemed wrong to me.

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These days, though, the standard chocolate version seems quite tame. My latest trip to Woolies alerted me to three variations to chocolate hot cross buns. Cadbury now have milk chocolate, Caramilk and Old Gold versions. Coles has jalapeno hot cross buns.

There is also a fruitless version, and even a brioche one. I say, ‘Yuck!’ to the lot of them.

There is one relatively recent iteration that I’ve fallen in love with – the apple and cinnamon hot cross bun. I’ll never say ‘no’ to one of those. Maybe I’m not the traditionalist I thought I was. It’s probably not so much the flavours of those other varieties that annoy me, as accidentally buying them when meaning to buy a standard, original hot cross bun.

My adult son has been bringing home packs of hot cross buns for the past few weeks, and I must admit to having succumbed several times to the temptation they present every time I roll open the bread bin. I suspect that, by the time Good Friday – still more than a month away – rolls around, I’ll be sick of them.

At that point, I’ll probably start scouring supermarkets in search of fruit mince tarts. After all, by then there will be only eight months until Christmas.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz