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For three days you could virtually sniff the raisin-cinnamon-nutmeg concoction as thousands of little hot cross buns were baked in ovens across the state, rising to perfection as little rounded, delicious mounds. The local papers, the Nahvind Times and the Herald were full of bakery advertisements featuring two days of hot cross bun specials in time for Good Friday. And in many of Goa's Christian homes those treats were homemade.
Here in India, Good Friday is a central government holiday but in Goa many businesses were also shut as Christians symbolically commemorated the Crucifixion of Christ through midnight masses and different forms of reenactments. North to South, the church pews were full of folk through the weekend.
I hopped across to the nearest bakery to make sure we got some goodies before they were cleared off the rack. Just in time! We savored our hot cross buns for several days, and I was disappointed to see that they were no longer available at the local bakery when I paid a post-Easter visit.
Why can't we have hot cross buns all year around? Would they lose their novelty? Lemon tarts and chocolate cake certainly don't seem to be going out of style. But I digress.
Home-made hot cross buns featured here:
Hot Cross Buns were just part of the fare that accompanied the weekend. For weeks before stores were selling Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and all sorts of treats that had all the children of Goa salivating every time they neared a store or a bakery.
As it turns out hot cross buns have little to do with Christianity: I just read that they predate Good Friday, which tells us a funny story about the birth and adaptation of religions. As it turns out, hot cross buns predate Christian England. They were baked to celebrate the vernal equinox, and the cross on the top represented not the Christian cross but the phases of the moon and was marked by the Festival of Eostre. (Not sure what connection, if any, there might be between that and the name Easter.) Obviously this was all considered part and parcel of pagan culture and over time the church tried to ban all things associated with paganism, including, sadly, hot cross buns. As it turns out, that's not much different from how Christianity evolved here. In the end when hot cross buns and other things seemed to be to precious to the once-pagans, the church relented and folded these ingredients into their own local setup ... and there you have it, the story of hot cross buns.
(Curiously, the Portuguese tried to ban all the local traditions and ritual practices when they arrived in Goa a few centuries ago only to find that ties to land and local customary practice were too strong to simply ban, so once again the church relented and allowed some of the old practices to be part of a Christian Indian tradition.)
Funny, that buns could be at the center of an identity dispute.