Good Friday is a strange name for the day the Son of God was put to death, but it is generally believed to be derived from the term God’s Friday. To mark Good Friday, I thought I would share some photos of Irish Celtic crosses which I took last summer, and review some old Irish traditions associated with this holy day.
In Ireland, this day was traditionally dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. Some Irish Catholics fasted completely until midday. Then at noon they only broke their fast by eating a piece of dry bread washed down by three sips of cold water, each sip taken to honor the Holy Trinity.
For those who preferred a little less Lenten austerity, one meal and two collations (snacks) were allowed on their Good Friday menu, but fish was recommended for the main meal. Hot cross buns could be eaten for one collation.
In the past this was a day of rest with little or no work completed on the land. One minor task was allowed – good luck and blessings for the summer’s crops could be attained by planting a small amount of grain or seed potatoes.
In preparation for Easter, cleaning and tidying the house and yard was permitted.
No nail could be driven on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Carpenters definitely took the day off.
No animal could be slaughtered, since shedding even a drop of blood was frowned upon.
Fishermen stayed at home with all vessels and fishing nets remaining idle on this holy day.
Good Friday was never the day scheduled for moving house or starting an important project.
Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Ireland, but banks and pubs are closed. When I was young no pub was open on this day, but I believe in recent years a few exceptions have been made.
Good Friday is one of the best days to visit a graveyard or holy well. On this day it is believed holy water has curative properties.
Silence is encouraged by many older Irish people. Remaining silent between noon and 3 pm is a sign of respect for our Crucified Lord, who hung on the cross for these three hours.
Good Friday has always been considered a good day to die. I’m not sure if any day is a good day to die, but on Good Friday the Irish believe the deceased’s soul ascends straight to heaven.
If you happen to be a migraine sufferer today is the day to cut your hair. Our ancestors believed a good haircut would ward off headaches for the coming year. A good toenail and finger trim was also recommended on Good Friday. Women and girls working in the house loosened their hair, allowing it to hang down as a symbol of mourning.
Penance was practiced by remaining barefoot throughout the day.
In years gone by there were no fancy chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Ireland. Instead, eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross. These eggs were then cooked and eaten on Easter Sunday. Also if you were in need of healthy hens, setting eggs to hatch on this day was highly recommended.
Those born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday often possessed the gift of healing. Boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to join the priesthood, with the expectation they would become a parish priest or a bishop.
These old Irish customs show us that in days gone by, Good Friday was not merely a day to commemorate the sorrow of Christ’s death. Through these simple, solemn customs our ancestors found a way to remember Easter’s spiritual message of ultimate hope.
Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh
Irish American Mom