In Depth

Good Friday 2019: when is it and why is it celebrated?

Bank holiday commemorates the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus Christ

In the sparsely populated calendar of British bank holidays (we get a grand total of eight every year in England and Wales while Scotland gets one more) Good Friday is the first national holiday after the New Year celebrations.

An integral part of the Christian Easter celebrations, Good Friday commemorates the end of Christ's Passion, the final period of Jesus Christ's life, starting with his entrance to the city of Jerusalem and ending with his grisly execution.

When is it this year?

With Easter falling later than usual this year, Good Friday takes place on 19 April.

In different traditions, the date is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday or Easter Friday and marks the beginning of the Easter long weekend.

So, what happened?

Following the Last Supper during the Jewish festival of Passover, Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, for 30 pieces of silver.

After being sentenced to death by the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, he was brutally flogged, forced to wear a crown of thorns and marched through the streets of Jerusalem before being crucified.

Sounds pretty morbid – why is it called Good Friday?

According to Christian orthodoxy, the prefix “Good” comes from the notion that Jesus showed his love for man and, with his death, saved the souls of all mankind.

The word “good” also means pious or holy but other sources suggest Good Friday is actually a corruption of “God’s Friday”. To confuse matters, the Catholic Encyclopedia, first published in 1907, refuses to come down on either side, instead stating that the origins of the term are unclear.

How do Christians celebrate it?

In reality, “commemorate” is a more accurate term. Churches around the world are draped in black and processions are held. Catholic believers are encouraged to wear sombre clothes.

In Jerusalem, Christians honour Jesus by walking the same path he trod on the way to his crucifixion. Some devout followers even carry crosses on their back.

In Bermuda, handmade kites are flown to commemorate Jesus’ death and symbolise his ascension to heaven, while people in Poland fast on dry bread and roast potatoes.

In El Salvador in the days leading up to Easter, members of the Catholic church haul dyed sawdust through the streets. Then on Good Friday believers turn the raw materials into colourful scenes called alfombras (“carpets”), which depict the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The annual Good Friday procession in Bensheim, Germany, “is perhaps one of the biggest and most elaborate in the world” says the Daily Meal. Every year on this holy day, families from the local Italian community put on a re-enactment of the betrayal, sentencing, scourging, and death of Jesus in a theatrical and elaborate performance.

Good Friday in the Philippines is perhaps the most extreme. In Pampanga between three and 12 men are literally nailed to a cross every year to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus and remain there until they feel cleansed of sin.

Here in the UK, many Christians attend church services and people from all denominations eat hot cross buns. In London, thousands of people gather in Trafalgar Square to watch a passion play depicting the crucifixion.

Why do people eat hot cross buns?

Spiced, sweet buns topped with a cross have long been eaten on Good Friday. The cross is said to represent the crucifixion of Jesus, while the raisins symbolise the spices used to embalm his body at his burial.

The eating of hot cross buns marks the end of Lent. Made with dairy products, they are forbidden during this period, with plain buns traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent.

According to BT, some believe the hot cross bun originates from St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk, developed a recipe called an 'Alban Bun' and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361.

However, The Daily Telegraph suggests the practice of eating enriched, sweetened dough dates back to Roman times, long before Christianity when loves were baked with symbols on them, including crosses.

Small, spiced cakes were also baked to honour the Saxon goddess Eoestre, and to celebrate spring, “but it was the Tudors who began to link the spiced currant buns we know today with feast days, celebrations and eventually Lent”, says the Telegraph.

During the reign of Elizabeth 1 it became illegal to sell hot cross buns except at funerals, on Good Friday, and at Christmas.

BT also says British folklore has it that “buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year [and] if hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly.”

Are Easter eggs connected to Good Friday?

The short answer is, no. Eggs represent new life in Christianity and the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb. Therefore, eggs – both painted and chocolate – have more to do with Easter Monday, when the tomb was found to be empty.

Do we get a bank holiday?

Yes. Good Friday is traditionally the first bank holiday of year (expect in Scotland which takes the 2 January off) and marks the beginning of the long Easter weekend.

Easter Monday on 22 April is also a bank holiday, but not every work will give employees these two Easter dates off.

“Bank or public holidays do not have to be given to employees as paid leave, an employer can decide whether to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory leave”, says The Sun.

Check out your worker’s rights in regards to public holidays here, and find out how you can get 18 consecutive days off using just nine days of annual leave here.


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