Dear Mr Postman - ah! another letter - you are kind to deliver on Good Friday .. we're looking forward to tea time and having our Hot Cross Buns ....
Today is Good Friday and when we were children were made to be quiet for the hours of the crucifixion - in Britain this began at 3.00 pm and lasted until 6.00 pm .. it would seem that over the years, for a lot of us, this respect has been lost.
Christ's Crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday - Good Friday, as we call it in England, is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday or Black Friday. It is a fast day, and in the Roman Catholic Church the Mass is not celebrated; however in the Anglican Church Holy Communion is rarely held, although it is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer.
A custom in some churches is the singing or preaching of the Passion; several composers have written a Passion (the story of the last days of Christ) based on the Gospel of St John. Probably the best known is Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion which he wrote for the Good Friday vespers in 1724 being held in Leipzig.
Hot Cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday with the cross standing as a symbol of crucifixion. They are believed to pre-date Christianity with cakes being baked in honor of deities since very ancient times and were almost certainly eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre - the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon.
Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) in Protestant England tried to stop the buns being sold by bakers as they were seen as a dangerous hold-over of Catholic belief in England, being baked from the dough used in making the communion wafer. But Hot Cross Buns were too popular and so instead Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas .. I guess that law has been repealed .. as shops have been selling Hot X Buns all year!!
Traditional spiced, sticky glazed buns with a pastry cross are made with a variety of spices (eg: cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, coriander, allspice, saffron or just mixed spice) and can include usually currants, sometimes raisins, or as in the United States include candied citron, or as in Australia and New Zealand where chocolate replaces the fruit. Many local forms of the spiced bun exist, an example of which being the Cornish Saffron Bun.
Thank you Mr Postman for all that interesting information tying pre-Christianity into our customs and traditions of today .. and yes - you've reminded me that there is some more information to be found in the previous letters as I've set out below:
PS: The mass state funeral held for the victims of the recent earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy was a mixture of private grief and the pomp of state, with Good Friday turning into a day of national mourning. Pope Benedict XVI had given special permission for the funeral to be held on Good Friday, when normally only Masses held are in commemoration of the Crucifixion.