Hot Cross Buns And Culture
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An email exchange with reader Dennis in Idaho:

Dear Mr. Derbyshire,

In your latest broadcast from Taki’s isle, you discussed how the Krispy Kreme franchise in England offered a “KKK Wednesday” donut (or doughnut) sales promotion.

Would this have been permissible if they were selling “hot cross buns” instead of donuts?

I replied:

That is very good, Dennis, albeit a bit Brit-centric for American audiences.  I’d like to post it on the VDARE blog, with of course all identifying information removed if you wish.  Await your permission.

Dennis came back with:

You may use my name if you wish … I’m just surprised that nobody else came up with this joke since the original story was republished world-wide.

By the way, hot cross buns were common in my youth in California.  My parents were Presbyterians, not Catholics, but my mother always bought them at the bakeries this time of year.

Mention of hot cross buns summons a Derb memory from the remotest past, when the universe was still sorting itself out into elementary particles: actually from Easter 1950, when I was not quite five years old.

There was a new hit program on radio in England that year:  Listen With Mother.  Among its other charms it featured a male presenter named George, who sang the Hot Cross Buns song in a way that was somehow memorable.  I can hear George now in my head.

I can date the memory precisely because (a) it was the show’s first season (it debuted January 16th, 1950), (b) it was obviously Eastertime, and (c) there was a vituperative controversy among my coevals as to whether the show was or was not too babyish for us sophisticates.

The internet seems not to have any record of George singing “Hot Cross Buns,” but here’s a snippet to give you the flavor of the show.

I can’t resist the suspicion that the presenters there were having some adult fun with their tiny innocent listeners. At 1m25s into that clip:  “And now the music’s going to tell you where your balls are …”

Incidentally, for those who like cultural arcana, I actually saw some burning crosses last Friday, on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

No, the Klan hasn’t got into opera production:  this was Rossini’s La Donna del Lago, an operatic version of Sir Walter Scott’s long narrative poem (or novel in verse, if you like) The Lady of the Lake, which is based on events in 16th-century Scotland.

In his notes to the third canto, Scott says:

When a chieftain designed to summon his clan, upon any sudden or important emergency, he slew a goat, and making a cross of any light wood, seared its extremities in the fire, and extinguished them in the blood of the animal. This was called the Fiery Cross, also Crean Tarigh, or the Cross of Shame, because disobedience to what the symbol implied, inferred infamy.

Apparently this symbol was brought to North America somehow, whether via Scott’s poem or not I don’t know, and taken up by the Klan.

You want more cultural arcana?  I got more.

The Boat Song from the second canto of Scott’s poem starts like this:

Hail to the chief, who in triumph advances,

Honour’d and blest be the evergreen pine!

Long may the tree in his banner that glances,

Flourish the shelter and grace of our line …

The Boat Song was set to music around 1812 by an obscure composer named Sanderson (Wikipedia) or Stephenson (Will Crutchfield, in his program notes to the 1970 Turin recording of La Donna del Lago).

The lyrics have been long forgotten; but Sanderson/Stephenson’s tune is still heard on a regular basis.

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