Holiday History: The origins of Good Friday

Today is Mourning Friday, Long Friday, Silent Friday, and Holy Friday.

I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself: isn’t today Good Friday?

They actually are all one and the same—the day Christians remember when Christ was executed, put to death by the power of the state. The other names are used in languages such as German, Swedish, French and Spanish.

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Why is it called Good Friday in English? Why would a day on which Jesus was beaten and killed be called good? After all, many churches will hold solemn services today, and some of those will end in darkness in the church.

While there are several theories on the origin of the name, the one that is most widely accepted is that it stems from a time when the word good was used to mean the same thing as pious or holy. So Good Friday has stayed with us since the Middle Ages.

Others think it may come from the expression “God’s Friday.”

When you think about it, it is a Good Friday for Christians because they know how the story ends. After his death and burial, Christ would rise on the third day, on Easter. Although he was crucified, they see his death as resulting not only from the actions of the authorities, but also because of the sins of each person.

His death and resurrection meant salvation would be available to all mankind. The cross, intended to be a symbol of shame, became a symbol of victory.

For many, Easter itself has become associated with chocolate Easter bunnies (and Peeps), egg hunts, and gifts for children. Good Friday has remained primarily a religious holiday, although it is a government-recognized holiday in a number of countries and several U.S. states.

As with many holidays, there is a traditional food for Good Friday: hot cross buns. While hot cross buns as we know them originated in England, cakes marked with a cross may have been baked in Greece 1,500 years ago. Hot cross buns are still baked and eaten by many people today.

For example, Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman on her website and TV show, says “friends who gift one another with Hot Cross Buns every year are said to remain friends for life.”

Good Friday is part of Holy Week, which began last Sunday with Palm Sunday, a remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

This year Good Friday and Easter overlap with the Jewish observance of Passover, and it comes just before the beginning of Ramadan (on April 13), the most significant month of the year for Muslims.

This is part of an ongoing series about the history of holidays, both secular and religious. To read last month’s feature about the history of St. Patrick’s Day, click here

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