Good Friday is the traditional day Christians believe God expressed His love for humankind by allowing His Son, Jesus Christ, to be sacrificed on a cross as the ultimate atonement for sin. The day is commemorated around the world with numerous traditions and customs, and most cultures signify the event as a reverent period of mourning.
Various opinions differ as to how the name was actually derived. Some believe the day was once called God Friday and evolved into Good Friday, while others believe the name to be a derivative of European or Middle Eastern language. In other parts of the world the day is known as Great Friday, Holy Friday or Black Friday.
The Western Church celebrates the day annually anywhere from March 20 to April 23. The date varies in accordance with the first full moon (Passover moon) after March 10th, according to the Ecclesiastical Calendar.
Many faiths believe the day should include a period of fasting. Some partake of only one meal on the holy day, while others eat two or three small meals. A few devoted followers fast from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
Abstaining from meat on this Friday is widely accepted, to avoid spilling blood or to emulate the simple diet of Christ himself. Seafood is allowed and many cultures include varieties into the day’s meal. Traditional dishes of soups, stews or pasta are served with bread and wine.
European cultures bake hot cross buns, believing the bun represents the stone that sealed the tomb, the spices represent the burial preparation and the carved or frosting cross depicts the crucifixion.
The customs and traditions celebrated on Good Friday are as varied as the number of religions and cultures. Some believe it is necessary to show reverence by abstaining from fun-filled or lighthearted and social activities while others sacrifice modern conveniences like electricity or wear black clothing. In the Caribbean it is considered a bad omen to sunbathe or swim on Good Friday. Some communities refrain from ringing church bells till Easter Sunday.
Various communities depict the last footsteps of Christ with pilgrimages comprised of citizens walking in processions through a town or up to a church while singing and praying. In Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa follows the historical last walk of Christ, His crucifixion and burial. Visitors from all over the world take part in the walk that contains 14 locations, starting at the Garden of Gethsemane and ending at the Tomb.
Certain cultures carry crosses during a procession; others have actors reenacting the role of Christ. In Taxco, Mexico, a Catholic brotherhood flogs themselves with nail-studded whips or have arms outstretched and tied to blackberry branches. Citizens from the Philippines volunteer to be nailed to crosses, which are mounted in the ground, in an attempt to show spiritual devotion.
Many cultures host Passion Plays depicting the final days of Christ from the Last Supper to the Ascension. Citizens in Misiones, Paraguay celebrate Christ by recreating life-sized paintings by well-known art masters. Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is displayed with actors in costume, sitting behind a table with a background similar to the masterpiece painting.
The most elaborate Passion Play is held every decade in Oberumergau, Germany and has been celebrated for over 400 years. In 1632, the town had been repeatedly ravaged by the plague, war and poverty. The people cried out to God vowing to perform a play faithfully every ten years if He would deliver them from these misfortunes. The plays started and the residents believe they experienced divine intervention. Almost 2000 residents participate in the event that takes almost a year in preparation. The performance is held outdoors and lasts for 5 hours with an intermission.
Many churches hold services at 3:00 PM, which is believed to be a holy time during the crucifixion. Some services are simple and others incorporate the medieval tradition of Tenebrae. Candles are lit at the beginning of a Tenebrae service. Throughout the service, one by one, the candles are extinguished. The last candle, which represents Christ, is hidden as the world is in darkness and despair. A loud, unexpected noise jolts parishioners, which is representative of Christ’s crying out and of geological events that occurred on that day. At the end of the service, the last candle is produced and lighted, signifying Christ’s victory over sin and death.