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Tag Archive: traditions

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?

Dec 05

Christmas favorites: Traditions

A few years ago I looked at some Missouri Christmas traditions dating to the mid 1800s: Christmas traditions of Missouri.

Dec 23

Christmas traditions of Missouri

Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.
–Gladys Tabor (Still Cove Journal)

In our house on Christmas morning we honor a Yuletide tradition passed down from the early French traders who settled Missouri. We celebrate it year after year, but until recently when I researched Missouri Christmas traditions, I had no idea why.

Sometimes we celebrate “reveillon” (pronounced “rev-ay-yon”) on Christmas morning, sometimes on the day after depending upon when the grown offspring arrive.

No, Seinfeld fans, I am not speaking of “Festivus”.

Although the term “reveillon” may seem just as unusual to you as Festivus, the custom of “reveillon” is French for Christmas breakfast.

In Missouri, the Roman Catholic French, the first white settlers in the region, gathered at the home of the head of the family each year on Christmas morning to “reveil” (pronounced rev-ay), meaning wake for breakfast together.

The fare included flavored sweet breads, chestnuts, wild turkey, and dried fruit such as oranges, grapes and cranberries as well as oysters if they could get them. I discovered that in Kansas City markets in the 1850s many of these delicacies were indeed available.

The French adults did not exchange gifts, but the children placed their shoes on the hearth to be filled with candy and toys by the Petit Noel (the Christ Child). No one had a Christmas tree then.

Christmas traditions in Missouri, according to author Dorothy J. Caldwell, were patterned after time-honored traditions of European origin, some rowdy and some religious in nature. All included a time of honoring the spiritual meaning of the season and of family reunion and gaiety, as she described it.

I found excerpts from Caldwell’s writings in my hometown historical society newsletter. From that I located her article titled “Christmas in Missouri”, first published in the Missouri Historical Review in January 1971.

It is fascinating reading if you love history.

She explains how the Germans came to Missouri after the early French settlers, a history family to most Missourians, but their Christmas traditions may not be as familiar.

Caldwell references Gert Goebel of Franklin County, Missouri, who wrote that in the 1830s many Missourians held no Christmas church services, no presents were given, and the beautiful custom of the Christmas tree was unknown.

But it was not long after that German settlers introduced the Christmas tree to the Missouri frontier. Caldwell wrote that where cedar trees grew abundantly, “they were brought in from the woods, hung with bright red berries from wild bushes, red leaves from gum and sassafras trees and yellow leaves from maple trees, and topped with dusty miller or peacock feathers.”

With only native cedar trees and few pines, Christmas tree availability was scarce in Missouri, especially in Kansas City and St. Louis urban areas. Caldwell explains, “It was not until 1882 that cabinet-maker Oswald Karl Lux, a recent German settler, lighted the first full-sized Christmas tree in old Westport and in Kansas City. Two years later Westport and Kansas City citizens were able to buy Christmas trees shipped from Michigan.”

As we each carry-on with our unique and/or adapted family Christmas traditions, I like knowing that most of these are anchored deep in Missouri history.

I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, a happy reveillon Christmas breakfast if you have one and a festive Christmas tree whether decorated with berries and feathers or with shiny ornaments and festal lights.

And I might add as Andy Rooney once quipped, “One of the most glorious traditions in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

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