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Tag Archive: English

Apr 18

Sweet, delicious hot cross buns, a family Easter tradition – from my archived columns

“Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns. If you have no daughters, give them to your sons, one ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns.” – English ditty

hot cross buns

Even though Easter is over, hot cross buns are high on my list of traditions I want to keep alive for future generations.

A family custom in many households around the world but especially in England, these sweet yeast rolls are served warm either on Good Friday or Easter Sunday morning.

Perhaps you wonder what hot cross buns are if you never tried one.

Here is how I would describe them if baked to perfection.

Sweet and delicious with a glossy-browned finish on top, filled with mild spices, currants, or dried fruit and raisins, and lastly decorated on top with white “powdered sugar” icing in the shape of a cross, a reminder of the crucifixion of Christ.

In addition to being simply good to eat, I find the lore surrounding hot cross buns deliciously interesting.

For example, did you know that Elizabeth I, Queen of England, once banned the buns because she feared they would bring the return of Catholicism? The buns were so popular, however, that she relented.

And before that, the Romans brought the buns to England in the 1360s, whereupon a monk distributed them to the poor for food and healing. Because the buns had a cross on top, many believed they had magical healing powers. The buns were crushed into a powder that was subsequently used as medicine.

Additionally, superstition held that hot cross buns protected one’s household from evil, therefore, families hung them from the ceilings to ward off evil spirits.

Another story tells the tale of an English widow whose son went off to sea. She baked his favorite hot cross buns, every Good Friday and hung them in her window hoping he would come home. Although he never returned, the English people continued the tradition and baked hot cross buns every Good Friday.

I guess I do the same with our sons, in a manner of speaking, although I don’t hang the buns in the window.

On this particular Easter weekend for example, our grown kids, who incidentally never saw an Easter Sunday morning without a hot cross bun in their lives, all called commenting about hot cross buns.

One son who is away at school lamented the fact that he had no hot cross buns for Easter. It saddened him.

Another son wondered if he should stop at a bakery on his way home for Easter. Did I need him to pick up hot cross buns? Just wanted to be sure we had some, he said.

Another son is newly married and lives in another state. In the afternoon they called with their greetings. My son’s bride said she was curious about something and asked, “What are hot cross buns?” She said they went to a church that served them for Easter breakfast, and she didn’t know what they were. Then she laughed and said, “But your son seemed to know all about them.”

As I said, I am doing my part to keep this tradition alive.

The lyrics of the English ditty did say something about giving hot cross buns to your sons, didn’t it?

Nov 25

Amazing Grace—a song loved around the world

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”
– published around 1779 by John Newton, English clergyman and seaman

Recently a story caught my eye about the history of the song, “Amazing Grace”, one that most of us can sing by heart.

It is a hymn that resonates with people everywhere in a way that almost no other song does and thus could be the perfect Thanksgiving hymn.

“Amazing Grace” is, quite simply put, adored worldwide.

In this country, it is sung at countless Thanksgiving Day and Veterans’ Day events and at such sad and unhappy occasions as the memorial services after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

However, its unfailing optimism and uplifting message makes it popular with scores of recording artists, such as Judy Collins, Elvis Presley and Leann Rimes.

For more than two centuries the song became a fixture across spiritual and secular cultures worldwide, according to Joe Edwards, AP religious writer.

He notes that according to www.allmusic.com, “Amazing Grace” has been recorded more than 6,600 times.

Edwards explains why it is so popular: “It crosses denominational doctrine…and is unfailingly positive…the word ‘grace’ is mentioned three times in the second verse alone.”

How “Amazing Grace” came to be written is what I find intriguing.

For example, Newton’s lyrics “that saved a wretch like me” are understandable considering the fact that as a young midshipman he endured great suffering at sea with unbearable living conditions, public flogging, exchange into service on a slave ship and brutal abuse.

As the son of a merchant ship commander, Newton learned seamanship from his father and eventually signed on with the H.M.S. Harwich, a man-of-war.

Al Rogers authored a magazine article in 1996, “The Story of John Newton”, in which he explained that conditions on board were so intolerable that Newton deserted. He was soon recaptured, publicly beaten and demoted to common seaman. He was exchanged into service on a slave ship that took him to the coast of Sierra Leone and eventually rescued by a sea captain who had known John’s father.

This ordeal coupled with a violent storm at sea led Newton to write about these life-changing experiences. Rogers explained, “on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Newton experienced what he was to refer to as his great deliverance.”

Newton later recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, this self-described non-religious sailor asked for mercy and was saved. He believed, according to Rogers, that “amazing grace” had begun to work for him.

After retiring from sailing, he decided to become a minister, furthered his education and was eventually ordained. He accepted the curacy (“guiding the souls of the parish”) of the church of Olney, Buckinghamshire. In little time, the services became so crowded that the sanctuary had to be enlarged.

Newton wrote his own epitaph using words that mirror the lyrics of his beloved hymn:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”.

The lyrics of “Amazing Grace” offer reassurance, while at the same time, the music is easy to sing with few high notes.

Many of us know the words of this enduring hymn and love the melody. And like John Newton, we are grateful for what he most aptly described as “amazing grace”.

Indeed, the perfect song for Thanksgiving Day.

Apr 08

Sweet, delicious hot cross buns, a family tradition

“Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns. If you have no daughters, give them to your sons, one ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns.” – English ditty

Even though Easter is over, hot cross buns are high on my list of traditions I want to keep alive for future generations.

A family custom in many households around the world but especially in England, these sweet yeast rolls are served warm either on Good Friday or Easter Sunday morning.

Perhaps you wonder what hot cross buns are if you never tried one.

Here is how I would describe them if baked to perfection.

Sweet and delicious with a glossy-browned finish on top, filled with mild spices, currants, or dried fruit and raisins, and lastly decorated on top with white “powdered sugar” icing in the shape of a cross, a reminder of the crucifixion of Christ.

In addition to being simply good to eat, I find the lore surrounding hot cross buns deliciously interesting.

For example, did you know that Elizabeth I, Queen of England, once banned the buns because she feared they would bring the return of Catholicism? The buns were so popular, however, that she relented.

And before that, the Romans brought the buns to England in the 1360s, whereupon a monk distributed them to the poor for food and healing. Because the buns had a cross on top, many believed they had magical healing powers. The buns were crushed into a powder that was subsequently used as medicine.

Additionally, superstition held that hot cross buns protected one’s household from evil, therefore, families hung them from the ceilings to ward off evil spirits.

Another story tells the tale of an English widow whose son went off to sea. She baked his favorite hot cross buns, every Good Friday and hung them in her window hoping he would come home. Although he never returned, the English people continued the tradition and baked hot cross buns every Good Friday.

I guess I do the same with our sons, in a manner of speaking, although I don’t hang the buns in the window.

On this particular Easter weekend for example, our grown kids, who incidentally never saw an Easter Sunday morning without a hot cross bun in their lives, all called commenting about hot cross buns.

One son who is away at school lamented the fact that he had no hot cross buns for Easter. It saddened him.

Another son wondered if he should stop at a bakery on his way home for Easter. Did I need him to pick up hot cross buns? Just wanted to be sure we had some, he said.

Another son is newly married and lives in another state. In the afternoon they called with their greetings. My son’s bride said she was curious about something and asked, “What are hot cross buns?” She said they went to a church that served them for Easter breakfast, and she didn’t know what they were. Then she laughed and said, “But your son seemed to know all about them.”

As I said, I am doing my part to keep this tradition alive.

The lyrics of the English ditty did say something about giving hot cross buns to your sons, didn’t it?