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Hot Cross Buns

“Do you know what hot cross buns are?” I asked Josh as he made coffee on Friday morning.

“They don’t seem like something good to eat right now,” he pointed out.  In addition to being Good Friday, it was also the Jewish holiday of Pesach.

“No, I just meant, do you know what they are?”

“They’re a pastry that doesn’t have a set price.  Sometimes you get them for one penny, but sometimes you need to pay two.  No, Melissa, I  have no idea what they are.  I think they’re rolls with some sort of cross on them.”

hot cross buns

Image: Jan Smith via Flickr

I finally just searched “hot cross buns” to find a picture under a cc license, so… yeah… now I know what they look like

I’m reading the Husband’s Secret, and Easter weekend in real life has lined up with Easter weekend in the book.  That rarely happens; that you’re reading a book and the characters are living the same day that you’re living.  All the characters in the book are incessantly talking about hot cross buns.  It’s a multitude of individual stories coming together, and each character has their own discussion about hot cross buns.  And then I went to read blogs this weekend, and real humans were mentioning eating hot cross buns.  This food that I’ve never seen or eaten was suddenly everywhere.

“Do you think they’re sort of bad and something people just endure?  Because if you have no neighbours to pawn them off on, you give them to your sons.”

Josh filled up the coffee carafe with water and paused.  “I think it’s daughters.  If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.”

“Oh.  I thought it was neighbours.  If you have no neighbours, give them to your sons.  Daughters makes more sense.*  Well, that rhyme now depresses me.”

Who wants to chirp on about having no daughters on Easter?  I went upstairs and Googled the words of the rhyme:

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

Josh was correct. I also learned that the rhyme was essentially a 19th century commercial. Street vendors would stand on the corner, hawking their hot cross buns to women walking past them to do the shopping.  And they would sing out rhymes like this to get them to buy their buns.

So even in the 1800s, people found it completely within the confines of polite conversation to comment on your family building.  Don’t have a daughter to eat these buns?  Then surely you have a son you can shove them into?  No?  Well, why haven’t you had children yet?  When are you going to have children?

As much as I understand that Christmas is a difficult holiday when you are encountering infertility, as someone who has only experienced a more closely aligned symbolic-laden holiday in spring,** I’ve always found the theme of babies much harder to sit with than the inclusion of babies or the discussion of a particular baby.  In the same way that certain babies don’t phase me, but sitting at a party, surrounded by women holding random babies does.  And Easter (and Pesach) are both about birth and babies and the renewal of life.  Eggs play a large role in the celebration of both holidays.  Freakin’ eggs.  They’re not even tucking away the imagery in something innocuous like baby animals or pastel colours.  They’re sticking the egg front and center.  Helps you to remember your own.

So my heart is with you today if you’re struggling with Easter.

So rather than focus on the egg hunt and the pretty pastel dresses while you are in church or at Easter brunch, consider — seriously — why the vendors couldn’t settle on a single price for their buns.  Were they one for a penny?  Two for a penny?  Did you have a choice how much you paid?  Were they one penny at the beginning of the day, and two as you got closer to the end of the day when the unsold wares would have to be turned over to the dogs anyway?  Use this thought as an anchor when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed.

And know there are a bunch of us, only one email or so away, who have your back.

Happy Easter.

* I’d like to apologize to the twins for teaching them the wrong words of “if you have no neighbours” when they were little. I feel like I failed you in the nursery rhyme department. I’d also like to apologize in advance to the family as a whole for continuing to sing the song wrong all day since it is now stuck in my head.

** Chanukkah is nothing like Christmas.  Chanukkah is a memorial marking a war.  Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ.  The only thing those two holidays have in common is that they fall near each other on the calendar.  But Pesach is part of the Easter story (the Last Supper), and both holidays contain loads of references to birth.  In other words, babies feature heavily in both spring holidays.


1 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 04.20.14 at 10:12 am }

Honestly, I never thought of Easter as having much to do with babies. Yay me! I feel like I dodged one of infertility’s bullets now.

Of course, it’s totally obvious in hindsight, but to me I guess it was more about death and reincarnation.

I didn’t go on many Easter egg hunts as a kid.

(Side note: I love hot cross buns, and you’re no doubt right about the price – the supermarkets “in my day” had the same price response around Easter and if you were a coupon-clipper type you knew when to pounce in at the last minute on Easter Saturday and snap them up cheap – although I notice now that any old bun can be eaten at any old time of year the price seems to have stabilised. No respect etc etc etc.)

2 Pepper { 04.20.14 at 1:09 pm }

I loved The Husband’s Secret. Did you also read What Alice Forgot? I especially got involved with the sister’s story there (which I feel you might understand). Happy weekend to you!

3 loribeth { 04.20.14 at 6:42 pm }

Thanks for this, Mel. I always think Easter isn’t going to bother me, and it invariably winds up that it does. Too many photos of adorable kids colouring & hunting for eggs and happy families doing stuff together, reminding me that my life, as good as it is, did not turn out quite the way I thought it would. 🙁

4 It Is What It Is { 04.20.14 at 7:00 pm }

Loved What Alice Forgot.

My sister posted a pic on FB of her homemade hot-cross buns. An Easter tradition for her, I guess.

It is too warm here for an authentic spring-like Easter. Somewhere north of 80. And me, in bed, with an inflammed heart-sac. YIPPEE (the kids on the other had have had a lovely day).

5 Persnickety { 04.20.14 at 7:17 pm }

Ahh hot cross buns. By far a bigger thing in Australia than they ever wherein the USA. I always felt let down by the cross, which promises sugar, but is just dough.
Hot cross buns start getting sold in Australia at some point in January, and everyone complains about the stores starting the season early.
Now we have choc chip, and mocha and no fruit hot cross buns, and they come at various price points ( although not as cheap as a penny)
Easter is a lot easier to avoid than Christmas- it is by far a more symbolic religious event, but it doesn’t have catchy songs, and we are not exhorted to by lots of stuff for others, so easier to avoid. It’s just a really relaxing long holiday weekend ( 4 days) during which all of the shops close for 3 of the four days.

6 Cindy { 04.20.14 at 11:12 pm }

Here in Australia we adore hot cross buns and buy them straight after Christmas through to Easter each year 🙂

7 Mali { 04.21.14 at 1:33 am }

New Zealand ditto Australia. We started buying hot cross buns weeks ago. A few years ago I was even brave enough to try to make some. They’re great for this time of year in New Zealand – autumn – as if it is cold, some hot cross buns, suitably toasted and slathered with butter, are a very yummy treat. All spicy and with dried fruit – they smell even better than they taste. Much better as an autumn than a spring treat.

And of course, the whole Easter thing here isn’t related to new life at all. Even though we have public holidays for Easter and Christmas, NZ is a very secular country, so as Persnickety said, here it is also a long (four-day) relaxing weekend, with shops shut for two days (Good Friday and Easter Sunday). Today for example we went hunting for a new clothes dryer (or parts to repair our old one), browsed through a furniture shop, then had coffee at the beach on a gorgeous autumn day along with half the city. Perfect afternoon.

8 deathstar { 04.21.14 at 9:49 am }

For years, we had the tradition of going to church twice a year, Easter and Christmas. However, it took me a while to figure out what eggs had to do with it. Really, a melding of pagan rites and Christianity. As for hot cross buns, I never cared for them. Eating a sweet bun that reminds you of the crucifixion?

9 Heather { 04.21.14 at 2:31 pm }

I agree Easter has a LOT to do with babies. And that is hard for infertiles.
I like hot cross buns. I just ate one.

10 Ana { 04.21.14 at 3:04 pm }

Curious what you thought of that book. I read it recently and it seemed sort of predictable, but definitely interesting/engaging. I’m hoping “What Alice Forgot” is available from the library soon—I’ve heard its her best. I must say I’ve never had a hot cross bun nor have I ever given it so much thought. And Easter does sort of fly under my radar, not being Christian and all….its pretty easy to ignore.

11 Katie Lamparyk { 04.21.14 at 10:43 pm }

I’m fairly sure there were just as many, if not more, family/baby pictures of everyone in their fine easter attire plastered across the social media. I wasn’t entirely prepared for it, but it was everywhere!

12 St. Elsewhere { 04.22.14 at 2:57 am }

It’s one of Figzy’s favourite rhymes.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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