Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday and hot cross buns

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
[As the days associated with Easter are moveable feasts, we have Good Friday permanently parked at April 9 in The Wilson's Almanac Book of Days.]

Hot-cross buns! Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
But if you have none of these little elves,
Then you may eat them all yourselves.
English street vendors' cry, and nursery rhyme

It's Good Friday in the Christian world (except for Orthodox), and traditionally today, in much of the Anglophone world, is the day to eat hot cross buns (see recipe), and they are still very popular in many countries such as Australia. In the Museo Borbonico in Rome is an ancient sculpture representing the miracle of the five barley loaves. Each loaf is marked with a cross, which is remarkable, as hot-cross buns are not eaten in Europe.

It might have started as a pagan custom, as suggested by both the early folklorists E Cobham Brewer and Robert Chambers. The worship of the Queen of Heaven with cakes may well have been, as Chambers notes, "a custom to be found alike in China and in ancient Mexico, as well as many other countries. In Egypt, the cakes were horned to resemble the sacred heifer, and then called bous, which in one of its oblique cases is boun – in short, bun!"

The Greeks offered cakes with 'horns' on them to Apollo, Diana, Hecate and Selene (the moon). Such a cake was called a bous, and (it is said) never grew mouldy. The round bun represented the full moon, and the cross symbolised the four quarters.

Brewer says that Good Friday's hot cross buns were traditionally made of the dough kneaded for the host (as used in church ritual), and were naturally enough marked with a cross. They were said to keep for twelve months without turning mouldy, and some people would hang up one or more in their house as a talisman against evil.

We also note that bous was the word the Greeks used for cattle (cf English 'bull' and Latin 'bovis'). Many Middle Eastern female deities from Astarte (Ishtar/Innana) and Isis to the Virgin Mary are frequently depicted with the crescent moon or similar-shaped horn emblems ...

(See also Horned God in the Scriptorium.)

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