While Easter is a day for bright celebrations, Easter egg hunts and indulging in the best Easter candies around, Good Friday is a somber holiday. Considered one of the most important religious holidays by Christians, Good Friday (sometimes called Holy Friday or Great Friday) commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
For this reason, Christians all around the world honor Jesus’ sacrifice and death for their sins with celebrations that mimic his own suffering. Across the globe, there are processionals, reenactments of the crucifixion and special religious services to mark the Friday before Easter — and some believers go above and beyond your average march through the streets.
In Jerusalem, Christians follow in Jesus’ footsteps and walk the very same path leading to the site of the crucifixion. In Bermuda, believers fly kites to symbolize Christ’s ascension into heaven. There are also some intense ceremonies involving crowns of thorns, floggings and getting nailed to a cross, as some believers try to feel what Jesus felt and relieve themselves of sin. And that’s just a start to Good Friday traditions around the world.
During Easter Week, members of Catholic churches in El Salvador haul buckets of dyed sawdust to the streets. Then, on Good Friday, they turn the raw materials into colorful scenes called alfombras (“carpets”), which depict the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Soon after, a procession mimicking that of Jesus’ funeral takes place.
London is one of the best cities in which to celebrate the Easter holiday. On Good Friday every year, tens of thousands of Brits gather in London to watch a passion play depicting the crucifixion in Trafalgar Square. The 90-minute play is completely free and open to the public. If you can’t travel to London for the Easter weekend, the event’s two showings at noon and 3:15 p.m. are livestreamed online.
The annual Good Friday procession in Bensheim, Germany, is perhaps one of the biggest and most elaborate in the world. Every year on this holy day, families from the local Italian community put on a reenactment of the betrayal, sentencing, scourging and death of Jesus in a theatrical and elaborate performance.
Because Ireland is a heavily Catholic country, for 90 years all pubs were ordered to be closed on Good Friday in observance of this somber holiday. However, in January 2018, the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday was lifted, allowing pubs and liquor stores to be open for the first time in nearly a century. However, some pub owners still keep their doors shut to honor this day and give their employees a much-needed day off.
All of Holy Week is a major holiday in Malta, and the celebrations reach a peak on Good Friday. Processions take place in towns and villages all around the country. The story of Good Friday and Easter is told during these walks, adding additional meaning to the honored days.
In Iztapalapa, Mexico, 4,000 actors reenact Christ’s walk to his death. One man, chosen for his character and strength, goes the extra mile by playing the role of Jesus. He wears a crown of thorns and is flogged in the streets, all while carrying a 200-pound cross.
As in many regions, Good Friday is a somber holiday in Peru. While Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are lively celebrations filled with traditional Peruvian cuisine, the anniversary of Jesus’ death is marked with small processions through the streets. In Lima, believers will flock to the painting of the crucifixion called the Lord of Miracles, which was painted by a slave in the 1600s and has since survived multiple earthquakes.
While men around the world volunteer to wear a crown of thorns and be tied to the cross, in Pampanga, Philippines, between three and 12 men are literally nailed to a cross every year to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus. The volunteers remain on the cross until they feel cleansed of sin.
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is one of the biggest religious celebrations for Catholics in the world, and Spain is no exception. All across the country, brotherhoods of priests hold elaborate processionals. Perhaps the most intense is in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, in which disciplinantes choose to self-flagellate as an act of faith.
Of course, the Holy Week is a massive celebration in Vatican City and Rome. On Good Friday, the Pope recites the Way of the Cross outside the Colosseum for Catholics from all across the world. A massive cross with torches burns in the sky and believers hold their own candles as the 14 Stations of the Cross, which depict Jesus’ path from sentencing through crucifixion to entombment, are read. It truly is one of the most glorious places to spend Easter weekend.
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