When is Good Friday 2021? Date of the UK bank holiday - and why we observe it

The exact date of the bank holiday varies from year to year due to the phases of the moon

As we draw closer to Easter, shops around the UK are filled to the brim with chocolate Easter eggs and decorations. However, the Friday before Easter, known as Good Friday, actually holds great religious significance to many.

But what exactly is Good Friday - and why does its date change every year? This is everything you need to know.

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What is Good Friday?

This is what you need to know about Good Friday (Photo: Shutterstock)

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, and is the day when Christians observe the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Christians believe that three days later, Christ was resurrected, on the day that is now widely known as Easter Sunday.

The New Testament tells how Jesus spent the night before Good Friday, known as Holy Thursday, at the Last Supper, where he broke unleavened bread and drank wine with his apostles.

On the Friday, Jesus sacrificed himself so that people’s relationship with God could be restored - known as the Atonement. He was forced to carry a crucifix on his back, and wear a crown of thorns on his head.

On top of the hill in Calvary, Jesus was nailed to the cross by Roman soldiers, under the orders of Pontius Pilate.

According to the Apostles’ Creed, two days after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, where he was seated at the right hand of God.

Why is it called Good Friday?

Since modern definitions of good have positive connotations, it might be confusing to understand what is “good” about the day that Christ was crucified.

However, good didn’t always have this definition - former meanings of good include “holy” or “pious”.

Fiona MacPherson, senior editor at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), explains that the adjective traditionally “designates a day on (or sometimes a season in) which religious observance is held”.

The OED states that “good” within this context refers to “a day or season observed as holy by the church” - which explains the greeting of “good tied” at Christmas, or Shrove Tuesday.

According to the OED, the earliest known usage of “guode friday” can be found in The South English Legendary, which is a text from around 1290.

According to the Baltimore Catechism, which was the standard US Catholic school text from 1885 to the 1960s, Good Friday is good because Christ “showed His great love for man, and purchased for him every blessing”.

Others have also speculated that the origins of Good Friday can be derived from “God’s Friday”, however this seems unlikely as it was not labelled as such by any Christian or Catholic scripture.

When is Good Friday this year?

This year, Good Friday will take place on Friday 2 April, with Easter taking place that Sunday, on 4 April.

In the UK, Good Friday is a bank holiday, with the following Monday, which is Easter Monday, also a bank holiday for England, Wales and Northern Ireland - but not in Scotland.

The date of Good Friday varies because the date of Easter also varies.

Easter is set to coincide with the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the full moon after the vernal equinox.

How do people observe Good Friday?

Usually, Christians observe Good Friday by attending mass at their parish church. At mass, the story of Christ’s crucifixion is read by a member of the clergy, or by a volunteer.

Many churches hold a special service on Good Friday, some lasting as long as three hours.

Some Christians may also choose to fast from food and drink on this day, as a mark of respect for the pain and sacrifice Christ endured.

It is also traditional to eat hot cross buns on Good Friday, as the pastry atop the buns symbolises the cross that Christ died on.

It is also traditional to eat fish on Good Friday instead of meat.