There are many Good Friday traditions around the world. Let’s take a look at what Christians around the world do to celebrate this important day.
The worldwide church beautifully moulds to the various cultures it inhabits. Even though the central beliefs are the same, there are different traditions in different parts of the world.
Whatever it looks like, Good Friday always has a central theme: the amazing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He did this to wipe the slate clean and make us whole again, allowing nothing to get in the way of our relationship with God.
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is a Christian holiday commemorating the death of Jesus. The event, depicted in all four gospels, is one of the pivotal moments in the Christian story.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the completion of His passion. When He says “It is finished” in John 19:30, Jesus means that the ultimate penalty has been paid and death has been defeated. From that point on there is nothing else we can do to earn God’s love.
This is genuinely good news and is why it’s called ‘Good Friday’. Although the crucifixion is a tragic event, Christians can celebrate knowing what is to come – the resurrection.
When is Good Friday celebrated?
We celebrate Good Friday three days prior to Easter Sunday. Because of this, the date changes every year, much like the rest of the dates in Easter.
That date is decided through a calculation known as Computus. It’s pretty complicated and we won’t try to explain it here but this article gives a pretty good overview of how it’s worked out and why.
This year, Good Friday is on Friday 15 April.
How is Good Friday celebrated?
There is often a somber tone to Good Friday. For those closest to Jesus, witnessing the events as they do in Matthew 27 and the other gospel accounts, this was a dark day. Their friend, king and teacher had been killed.
Today, we know what comes after this, so we can rejoice in what Jesus bought on the cross. Still, some people will use this day for more contemplative traditions. Some may use it as a time of repentance or a time to move on from something that’s happened in the past.
It’s also celebrated differently in different parts of the world and in different Christian denominations and church traditions. We’ve looked at some different ways it is celebrated below.
Good Friday traditions around the world
Fasting and prayer
Taking time to fast and pray is something that many Christians do throughout Holy Week, to focus on God and be open to His heart for you. This is often continued into Good Friday.
The global church will usually observe a day of fasting. This typically means you will have one meal but will forego other food and use the mealtimes to pray and reflect.
A Passion play is a dramatic reenactment of the Passion story and Jesus’s journey to the cross and crucifixion. In many places this involves a procession beforehand where the actors are followed by the watching crowd.
With Good Friday being a public holiday for many countries, it’s a good time to put one on, but sometimes they take place on other days.
In London each year, there is a passion play in Trafalgar Square. It’s free to attend and open to the public and is even live streamed. Similar events happen in other cities around the world.
Large processions are another thing that takes place in many cultures and cities. People will gather in one place and walk as a crowd to another location.
One of the most famous of these is the Way of the Cross ceremony in Rome. The Pope leads this from the Vatican, and they proceed from there to the Colosseum.
There is also a walk in Jerusalem along the route that Jesus is thought to have walked to the cross. This pilgrimage happens in remembrance of the steps Jesus took. Many also carry wooden crosses and subsequently attend mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site where some believe Christ was crucified and buried.
In many countries, particularly in the Mediterranean, a procession will happen during the 3 Hours Agony, between midday and 3pm. This is to commemorate the time when Jesus was dying on the cross.
Many churches will hold services on Good Friday. Some will be during the three hours mentioned above, often referred to as a 3 Hour Devotion. In Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and other churches, specific liturgy will be read.
Some services will focus on the stations of the cross. These can be depicted with scenes or physical stations in or outside the church building, that people can observe and use as a guide for contemplation.
These stations depict the moments leading up to Jesus’ death and in larger churches will often be on display for visitors to come and look at.
One thing that often happens at this time is ecumenical services, meaning that worshippers of all denominations are welcome. They will provide an opportunity for the whole body of Christ to come together and worship in unity.
Good Friday is usually recognized by the public, regardless of faith. In many countries, it will usually result in a public or state holiday. This is the case in the UK and in some US states too.
In Ireland, until 2018 you couldn’t serve alcohol on Good Friday. This has now changed so pubs are allowed to do this between 5-11pm.
Other unique Good Friday traditions
There are many other things that certain countries around the world do to commemorate Good Friday. Some of them are pretty unique!
In Bermuda, they fly kites to represent Jesus’s eventual ascension. A specific hexagonal design of kite is used, and they are as much an art form as a plaything.
In the Philippines and other places, people have historically taken a more literal view on the reenactments we described above. Some people will imitate parts of the Passion themselves and even be nailed to a cross for a very brief time before getting down. They see this as an act of penitence although some would argue it is unnecessary considering Christ’s sacrifice.
In Guatemala, the streets are covered in colorful carpets with stunning designs that often stretch for long distances. These are then walked over in an Easter procession.
Remember Good Friday with devotions
However you celebrate Good Friday, it’s certainly good to use some of the time to remember what it’s all about.
To help you do this, you may want to use a devotional or prompt that helps you fix your eyes on Jesus. Glorify has a number of things you can use that will help, including themed daily devotionals and Bible Studies that look at what the death of Jesus means for us.
Photo by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash