Hot Cross Buns (song)

Hot Cross Buns was an English street cry, later perpetuated as a nursery rhyme and an aid in musical education. It refers to the spiced English confection known as a hot cross bun, which is associated with the end of Lent and is eaten on Good Friday in various countries. The song has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 13029.

The most common modern version is:[1]

\relative c'' { \tempo 4 = 120 \time 4/4 \key c \major \autoBeamOff \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"clarinet"
g4 d g2   g4 d g2   d'8 c b a g a b c   d4 d, g2   b8 b b b b4 a4 g8 a b c a2 d8 c b a g a b c d4 d, g2 \bar "|." }
\addlyrics { Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns! One a pen -- ny, two a pen -- ny, Hot cross buns! If you have no daugh -- ters, give them to your sons. One a pen -- ny, two a pen -- ny, Hot cross buns! }

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Variant usesEdit

The rhyme as it appears in an 1860s book of Nursery rhymes printed in London

During the 18th century there was no standard version of the rhyme, which was sung on Good Friday to accompany the selling of the buns. The London street cry, for example, is recorded in Poor Robin's Almanack for 1733, which noted:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs,
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.[2]

A variant on this was collected by Iona and Peter Opie in their compilation of 19th century children’s booklets:

'Tis Good Friday morning, the little boy runs,
Along with his sister, to buy hot cross buns;
Her apron is full, yet her brother, the elf,
Unsatisfied still, must buy one for himself.[3]

The words closest to the rhyme that has survived were printed as a round in the London Chronicle for 2–4 June 1767.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross-buns;
If you’ve no daughters, give them to your sons;
And if you’ve no kind of pretty little elves,
Why then good faith, e’en eat them all yourselves.[4]

James Orchard Halliwell recorded a similar rhyme in his The Nursery Rhymes of England (London 1846) with the final line changed to “You cannot do better than to eat them yourselves”.[5]

Yet another street cry was recorded by Halliwell in his dialect dictionary as common in Coventry on Good Friday:

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns,
Butter them and sugar them and put them in your muns (i.e. mouths)[6]

and a further, different cry was later recorded by Iona Opie:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns;
One a penny poker,
Two a penny tongs,
Three a penny fire shovel,
Hot cross buns.[7]

After the street cry had made the transition to nursery use,[8] it was also commonly used in music classes and schools for young children trying to master a new instrument, continuing as such to this day.[9][10][11]


  1. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 197.
  2. ^ Hindley, Charles (10 November 2011). A History of the Cries of London: Ancient and Modern. Cambridge University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-108-03638-2.
  3. ^ Iona and Peter Opie, A Nursery Companion, Oxford University Press 1980, p. 107
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Easter Celebrations Worldwide. McFarland. 2021. p. 130.
  5. ^ J. O. Halliwell, The nursery rhymes of England (London 1846), item 494, p. 214
  6. ^ A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words (ed. J. O. Halliwell), vol. 1, p. 567 under Mun
  7. ^ One, Two, Three, Mother Goose (Candlewick Press, 1996)
  8. ^ Anne Jamison, Poetics en Passant: Redefining the Relationship Between Victorian and Modern Poetry, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p.156
  9. ^ Jeanne Shapiro Bamberger, The Mind Behind the Musical Ear: How Children Develop Musical Intelligence, Harvard University 1995, Part 2 "Tune Building", pp. 101–176
  10. ^ Ofsted report, Music in Schools, November 2008, p. 21, par. 40
  11. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Assessment Policy and Practice in Music, Oxford University Press 2019, vol. 2