For Christians it is the day on which they commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ after he was sentenced to death by Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The following Easter Sunday is celebrated as the day of his resurrection.
Many of the traditions associated with Easter and Good Friday, from the eating of hot cross buns to avoiding housework, are linked with this event.
We take a look at some of those customs and how they came about.
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday has huge significance in the Christian calendar as it commemorates the biblical story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The precise date of Christ’s death is a source of much debate but biblical scholars tend to believe it came on a Friday on or near Passover between 30-33AD.
There is some dispute as to the origins of the label “Good Friday”, with some suggesting that it is a corruption of “God’s Friday” and other experts stating that the adjective “good” is simply used to denote any holy day observed by the church.
Can you wash on Good Friday?
There are a number of old superstitions and customs attached to Good Friday. Blacksmiths would never shoe horses on that day, as the work involves hammering nails into the horses’ hooves just as the soldiers hailed Jesus to the cross.
Household chores, including washing of clothes, were also to be avoided on this holy day as it was thought doing them would bring bad luck on the household for the rest of the year.
Having a bath on Good Friday was thought to bring bad luck, especially at 3pm, the time Christ is believed to have died on the cross. Water was said to turn to blood in that particular period because of Jesus’s death.
Good Friday is also said to be the best day for planting seeds because Christ’s blood fell on the soil and blessed it.
Why do people eat fish on today?
Devout Christians may choose to avoid consuming meat on Good Friday because, according to the Bible, Jesus Christ sacrificed his own flesh when he was crucified.
Good Friday has become associated, for Christians, with offering a “penance” or sacrifice, and for many this has been linked to meat, which is associated with feasting and celebrations.
The church in the medieval period decreed meat from warm-blooded animals should be avoided every Friday and on Wednesdays during Lent. However, this was amended in the 60s by The Second Vatican Council, which announced it was now only guidance, rather than compulsory.
Fish was not considered to fall within the categorisation of meat and so can be eaten on these days of “abstinence”.
What other traditions are linked to this Easter date?
Hot cross buns – spicy fruit buns marked with a cross on top – have become a traditional food at Easter. The flour-paste cross is symbolic of the crucifixion.
A 14th century monk called Thomas Rocliff is widely believed to have invented the bun to give to the poor.
The gift of eggs has also become synonymous with Easter. Throughout history, people across the world have given each other eggs at spring festivals to mark the season of new life and rebirth.
During Lent, eggs were one of the foods Christians were not allowed to eat. So the arrival of Easter Sunday also meant the chance to enjoy them again.
Some believed eggs cooked on Good Friday and eaten at Easter would promote fertility and prevent sudden death, and it became the custom to have your eggs blessed before you ate them.
Today the ultimate luxury after the 40 days of penance during Lent is to enjoy a chocolate egg.