It's no secret that Easter, a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has deep ties to ancient pagan rituals celebrating the renewal of spring.
And hot cross buns, the classic Easter treat, is a perfect example of how traditional foods can be repurposed to support new ideas and beliefs.
Traditional hot cross buns — a sweetly spiced bread, studded with dried fruit and decorated with a cross made of dough or icing — have historically been served on Good Friday. In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decided that crossed buns would only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and at burials. Whether her decree was due to superstition or politics, it eventually turned hot cross buns into the Good Friday treat we enjoy today.
But long before that, this popular Christian Easter treat got its start as a pagan spring custom.
In her book Holiday Symbols And Customs, author Sue Ellen Thompson writes, "The pagans worshiped the goddess Eostre by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross, at their annual spring festival. When archaeologists excavated the city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ash and lava since 79 C.E., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins."