What's the meaning of Good Friday and why do we eat fish and chips?

Unless rather than going to school you spent your childhood years working down the mines, you probably realise that Good Friday is an important religious holiday.

But, for many people, it is also associated with heading to the chippy for a fish and chip supper.

However, not many know exactly why that is.

Good Friday marks the day when Jesus was crucified after he was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.

After Jesus' arrest, interrogation and condemnation for blasphemy and treason, he was crowned with thorns, handed his cross and ordered to drag it up the hill to the "place of the skull" – AKA Golgotha or Calvary.

For six hours, Jesus hung from the cross in the Israeli desert heat alongside two criminals, before crying out at around 3pm and giving up the Holy Ghost.

The crucifixion of Jesus is acted out in the town centre every Good Friday, in front of hundreds of spectators.

So why is it called Good Friday?

Well, there are two reasons. The first is the fact "good" is another word for holy in this context. The second is, despite the horror, it is Jesus' death (and subsequent rebirth) which is the cornerstone to the Christian faith.

Without getting into the technicalities (philosophers, theologians and believers of varying denominations have spent lifetimes explaining, debating, and debunking the technicalities), his death, his sacrifice after taking on all the sins of the world, meant we could all be forgiven.

Jesus' death means we have a chance of everlasting salvation – and for the faithful that is a very good thing indeed.

To mark the bitter-sweet significance of Good Friday, not only is it a bank holiday in many countries across the world, but in the Catholic church in particular, it is a day of fasting.

What in particular should be fasted, however, is meat. This is why many people eat fish on Good Friday instead.

So why is fish allowed? Partly because the symbol of the fish is how early Christians recognised each other. Also many of Jesus' disciples were fishermen.

And that's why you must eat fish on Good Friday. So get down the fish and chip shop now that you've got an excuse! Mushy peas and curry sauce have no relevance to Good Friday whatsoever, though, in case you were wondering!

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If Jesus died, why is it called Good Friday?

Today millions of Christians worldwide observe the somber holy day of Good Friday, which commemorates the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

The faithful often act it out by carrying a large wooden cross and crown of thorns symbolic of the suffering of Christ.

In the streets of Jerusalem, and even in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, people carry wooden crosses to remember Jesus carrying his cross to his own crucifixion.

Why is it Good?

At first glance, Good Friday seems like the ultimate misnomer. If Jesus suffered and died on this day, then why is it called Good Friday?

On one level, the answer is about the meaning of words.

The term "Good" as applied to Good Friday is an Old English expression meaning holy. It's often called Holy Friday also.

But in another sense, Good Friday is always tied to Easter Sunday, which is a joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He could not have been resurrected if he had not died first.

Carrying the Cross

In Jerusalem, they follow the Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross, retracing the steps of Jesus.

In Birmingham, a group led by St. Luke's Episcopal Church observed Stations of the Cross, meditations on the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, with a procession beginning in Linn Park.

In the neighboring suburb of Homewood, an afternoon procession along Oxmoor Road included stops at All Saints' Episcopal, Dawson Memorial Baptist, Edgewood Presbyterian and Trinity United Methodist for prayers based on the Stations of the Cross.

Jesus told his followers, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24, New International Version)
Jesus' example can provide strength through suffering, said the late Rev. John Claypool, who was a Southern Baptist preacher in Kentucky and later an Episcopal priest in Alabama.

A Glimpse of Evil

"God really does understand from the inside what it's like to suffer, to be abandoned, to be alone," Claypool said. "You can't realize the absolute marvel of Easter unless you appreciate the suffering of Good Friday."
The events of Good Friday described in the Bible include the trial of Jesus, the shouts of the crowd to "Crucify him!" even when given a choice to free Jesus or Barabbas, followed by Jesus carrying the cross and being hung on it to die.
"Good Friday is so powerfully significant because it gives us a glimpse into the depths of human evil," Claypool said. "You see the best and the worst of human nature."

God shows incredible mercy and patience in the events of Good Friday, Claypool said.
"It's a time to reflect on the dark tendencies that are in all of us," Claypool said.

Suffering Christ or Glorified Christ?

In planning the mural for the Beeson Divinity School chapel dome several years ago, Samford University had to decide how to portray Christ: glorified or suffering.
He is portrayed in the artwork as exalted in heaven - but also with nail prints in his hands - to remember the suffering of the crucifixion.

"Theologically, we must keep Good Friday and Easter together," Divinity School Dean Timothy George explained. "Good Friday without Easter is doom and despair. Easter without Good Friday is empty sentiment and sentimentality. We have to remember what Jesus did on the cross, which is the fulfillment of God's eternal plan for the whole world. It has cosmic consequences."

Taking time to observe the solemnity of Good Friday helps prepare Christians for Easter.

"It's a day to be silent, it's a day to remember, to focus on who Jesus is and what He meant for humanity," George said.

Good Friday's message 'more relevant than at any other time,' for many Toronto Christians

It was a solemn day for many in Toronto's Christian community who took to the streets to commemorate what is believed to be the death of Jesus on Good Friday.

Hundreds turned out to annual processions at the University of Toronto and in Little Italy to reenact the stations of the cross, symbolizing what Christians hold to be the path Jesus walked before the moment of his crucifixion.

And for Cardinal Thomas Collins the day was especially poignant, coming less than a week after twin bombings tore through Palm Sunday services in Egypt, claiming the lives of at least 44 Coptic Christians there and injuring at least another 100.

"Today is a very solemn day in the life of Christians because we commemorate the death of the Lord. We see the Lord, God himself, coming into our world and experiencing the violence which we go through. In the midst of that violence he brings love and compassion," the cardinal said.

Participating in procession makes faith personal, say some

"And I think we see that just recently of the terrible murder and massacre of those wonderful faithful Christians in Egypt. They responded with singing songs of love and faith and that is the way Christ teaches us on Good Friday."

Daniel Mammarella was among those who turned out to mark the day.

He says Good Friday's meaning is "more relevant today than any other time."

"Throughout history, whenever society opposes Christianity, we have to stand up and say, 'Yes, I'm going to be a Christian, despite what people think.'"

Participating in the procession brings home the symbolism in Mammarella's life, he said.

"You see a lot of things in movies but I have to make it my own. So when I do the readings for the way of the cross that we're doing right now, it brings me always back to the origin to my Catholic faith and how important it is for me every moment."

For Sasha Hellwig, who became Catholic last year, the day had added personal meaning.  She'll be confirmed into the Church this Sunday.

"This procession is really special for me because it really commemorates that Jesus died for my sins, and that I'm able to live that out through my life."

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