Buns stir bigotry in Easter dispute

The view of Cape Town from Signal Hill.Photo/File
The view of Cape Town from Signal Hill.Photo/File

People who are serious about shopping tend to get hot and bothered whenever supply of a trending item ends. They have short fuses that are easily sparked.

In our local supermarket here in Cape Town on Good Friday, the one seasonal article that was a must-have for every shopping basket for those people who had left their Easter grocery shopping to the last minute was hot cross buns, which

are marked on top with a cross, composed of strips of pastry.

For many Capetonians, the buns are the perfect accompaniment to the dish of eating fish pickled in vinegar that etiquette demands on this one day of the year, as it symbolises the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and being given vinegar to drink.

Before I moved to Cape Town, the last time I recall hearing of hot cross buns was in a little song I heard in kindergarten, just a decade or so after Independence. It went something like this: Hot cross buns! One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.

Back to my local Pick ‘N Pay supermarket and the altercation between a presumed Muslim woman, recognisable by her head scarf, and a supposedly Christian man. On display, there were the last two packets of hot cross buns. While both shoppers reached out for them at the same time, the man grabbed them first, saying to the clearly surprised woman: “Easter isn’t your holiday,” or words to that effect. His meaning was clear: hot cross buns are a Christian thing and all other faiths should yield.

This altercation took me back to a debate in the media a couple of years ago, when another supermarket here in South Africa was in the spotlight for putting a Halaal certification mark on its hot cross buns. At that time, a local newspaper, The Cape Times, reported that people had written emails and used social networking sites to voice disapproval of the use of a Muslim mark on a food that had special significance for Christians.

The outrage in 2012 was diffused by SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference spokesperson Chris Townsend, who said: “Hot cross buns are only a symbol, and not a central tenet of Christianity. There are a lot more weighty issues to deal with in SA than a few ‘hot cross Christians’.”

At the time I thought that would be the end of this religious rivalry, but clearly the resentment runs deep, at least when it comes to issues of supermarket supply and demand.

The Good Friday incident got me wondering about all the fuss over hot cross buns and to find out more, I turned to my good friend, Google, for answers.

Cruising the information superhighway, I came across explanations, including the pagan origins of the controversial bun and Easter itself.

Easter was originally a pagan festival marking the return of spring and commemorating the Saxon goddess of fertility and spring, Eastre. This pagan festival occurred at the same time as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. Cunning missionaries altered this festival to make it a Christian celebration, as converts were slowly won over.

By the way, as Christians mark Easter, members of the Jewish faith to which Jesus belonged celebrate Pasch (Pasaka in Swahili) or Passover.

So, good people, just stay calm and learn to coexist. After all, it’s just a bun.