The Origins and Practices of Holidays: Good Friday

April 19, 2019 – Good Friday and April 26, 2019 – Great/Holy Friday

Good Friday is an important holiday in the Christian religion as it commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This is an important event because it represents the sacrifices and suffering in Jesus' life. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, taken through several trials, then tied and nailed by the wrists and feet to a large wooden cross and left to die. This is why a cross is often used as a symbol of the Christian faith.

The crucifixion was the conclusion of a number of events in Holy Week, including: the triumphal return of Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; the washing of the disciples' feet by Jesus; and the Last Supper. Many wonder why the holiday is referred to as Good Friday given the tragic events it signifies. However, the 'Good' in Good Friday does not describe these events, it actually comes from old English when Good meant Holy.

Orthodox churches also celebrate Good Friday which they call Great Friday and Holy Friday. The principle is the same in that they use the holiday to reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, the holiday is celebrated on a different day because Orthodox churches kept the Julian calendar after the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in 1582. This holiday is also referred to as a “moveable feast” as the date changes according to the calendar's calculations. This year Great/Holy Friday falls on Friday, April 26.  

Many Christians and Orthodox Christians celebrate the holiday with strict fasting, while others observe a partial fast involving the exclusion of meat. Participants also attend special church services and prayer vigils. Some Orthodox churches begin observing Holy Friday on Thursday night where the liturgy’s main feature is accounts of Jesus Christ’s passion. Other churches may have a Good Friday liturgy Friday evening. Some Christians take on a somber attitude and maintain a quiet atmosphere in their homes with little to no entertainment or extracurricular activities. Others may play music and bake hot cross buns, a traditional Good Friday sweet. Many Orthodox Christian families may spend time decorating Easter eggs as part of the Easter preparations.

Good Friday is another day at work for many Americans, as it is not a national holiday. Some people may choose to take a day off work and in some states, employees are given a day off on Good Friday.

Learn more below.

The 8 Days of Holy Week

Lent, Holy Week, Easter: A Catholic's Guide - Season 1


If there's a particular celebration you or someone you know participates in that we missed, let us know by leaving a comment on this post. Or, if you think we got something wrong, please also comment and let us know. We try to be as accurate as possible, but if there's a mistake, we want to correct it.