What Is Good Friday and Why Do We Celebrate It?

If you weren't raised as a Christian—or didn't pay close attention in Sunday school—you might not understand the importance of this day.

Every Christian knows the tale: Jesus Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins, promising those who believe in him eternal life. Christians typically celebrate Jesus’s resurrection each spring on Easter Sunday, participating in Easter traditions like Easter egg hunts and gifting Easter baskets. But Good Friday, which is observed near the end of Lent and falls just days before Easter, doesn’t get the same attention: Only 12 states consider Good Friday an official holiday, and many people don’t know why they observe it to begin with. So what is Good Friday, anyway?

What is Good Friday?

Simply put, Good Friday is the day for Christians to commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion. On this day, according to the Bible, the Jewish religious leaders—who had condemned Jesus the night before for claiming to be the son of God and king of the Jews—brought him to the Romans for sentencing. He was sent from Pontius Pilate to Herod and then back to Pilate, who ultimately sentenced Jesus to crucifixion—the highest form of criminal punishment at the time. Jesus was then beaten, forced to carry a heavy wooden cross through jeering crowds, and finally nailed to the cross by his wrists and feet, where he hung until he died, later that day.

When is Good Friday 2022?

In 2022, Good Friday falls on Friday, April 15. Easter falls on Sunday, April 17.

What is the meaning of Good Friday?

Given its grim origins, calling this holiday “Good Friday” probably sounds counterintuitive. But the word “good” has a different meaning here. In this context, it “designates a day on (or sometimes a season in) which religious observance is held,” Fiona MacPherson, senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), told the BBC. Put another way, the term refers to “a day or season observed as holy by the church,” per the OED.

How is Good Friday observed?

Despite its name, Good Friday is a day for somber reflection. Each Friday before Easter, Christians solemnly honor the way Jesus suffered and died for their sins. They might attend a service that recounts Jesus’s painful crucifixion, and some even refrain from eating to show their sorrow. Catholic churches strip their altars bare and muffle their bells as a sign of mourning, according to Catholic.org.

But Christians soon turn to happier festivities: On the following Sunday, they celebrate Easter—the day of Jesus’s resurrection—with church services, joyous songs, and family gatherings. They may also share Easter wishesEaster quotes, and Bible quotes with loved ones.

Now that you know about Good Friday, read up on why Easter is on a different Sunday each year.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.