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Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, Christians remember the day when Jesus was crucified. That might not sound very good, but the name Good Friday might be derived from 'God's Friday' in the same way that good-bye is derived from 'God be with ye'. And in a way, it was good, because the barrier of sin had been broken – Christians believe that Jesus stood in our place, his death paying the penalty not for anything he did wrong, but for all the things that we do wrong.

Based on details in the four Gospels, Jesus was most likely to have been crucified on a Friday, in the year AD29.


Since the early 19th century, before the introduction of bank holidays, Good Friday and Christmas Day were the only two days of leisure normally given to working people. Good Friday is still a public holiday in the UK today.

Some people fast (go without food) on Good Friday. This helps them remember the sacrifice Jesus made for them. In fact the Anglo-Saxon name for Good Friday was Long Friday, due to the long fast imposed that day.

Many people don’t eat meat on Good Friday, but eat fish instead. This comes from the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays, as a small sacrifice to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. (Incidentally, this is why McDonald’s created the Filet-o-Fish.)

Others take part in a procession of witness, carrying a cross through the streets and then into church. This may be a communion service in the evening or a time of prayer during the day, especially around 3 o'clock as that is about the time of day when Jesus died. Some Churches hold services lasting three hours. They may celebrate the Stations of the Cross, or take part in Passion plays* and dramatic readings.

*The most famous of these is the Oberammergau Passion Play, performed every ten years in the village of Oberammergau, in Bavaria, Germany. The play, depicting the life and death of Jesus, involves more than 2,000 performers, musicians and technicians, who all live in the village. The play lasts 7 hours, with an interval for a meal. It is repeated many times over a period of several months, and attracts around half a million visitors. The next performance will be in 2020.


Eating hot cross buns, with fruit and spices has long been a tradition on Good Friday, and they are eaten in many Christian countries during Lent. Tesco, Britain's largest food retailer, will have sold 70 million of them by the end of the Easter weekend!

Some people think that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre, the cross symbolising the four quarters of the moon; others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross much earlier. In the time of Elizabeth I, a law was passed forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday and at Christmas. The penalty for breaking the law was being made to give away all the buns or bread to the poor.

The first recorded use of the name ‘hot cross bun’ was not until 1733, when the ditty below appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary:

“Good Friday comes this month - the old woman runs
With one or two a-penny hot cross buns,
Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,
They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.”

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them, as in the rhyme, says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not go mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of bun, finely grated and mixed with water, given to someone who is ill, is said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if, "Half for you and half for me; between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time. Because there is a cross on the buns, some people say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year when the new batch is made.

Whatever their origin and the superstitions surrounding them, hot cross buns are enjoyed by many people at this time of the year, and it is easy to see the Christian symbolism: the cross on top of the buns reminds us of the cross that Jesus died on, the spices remind of the spices with which Jesus was anointed, and the bread represents the body of Jesus, as at Communion.

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