Friday, 21 March 2008


“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” - Luke 23:46

Today is Good Friday for the Western churches (Orthodox Good Friday is on the 25th April this year). The name of the holiday may be derived from “God's Friday” in the same way that “good-bye” is derived from “God be with ye”. Some people maintain it is derived directly from “good” because the barrier of sin was broken and hence this day is good for our soul. The Anglo-Saxon name for Good Friday was Long Friday, due to the long fast imposed upon this day.

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday and on this day, Christians remember the day when Jesus was crucified on a cross. The date of Good Friday changes every year because it is related to the phases of the moon and the Spring equinox. The date of the original Good Friday is not definitively known, but many scholars believe that the event took place on April 7th, 30 AD. If they are right our calendar is wrong, by three years.

On Good Friday, Jesus was arrested and tried, in a mock trial. He was handed over to the Roman soldiers to be beaten and flogged with whips. A crown of long, sharp thorns was thrust upon his head. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross outside the city to Skull Hill. He was so weak after the beating that a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was pulled from the crowd and forced to carry Jesus' cross the rest of the way. Jesus was nailed to the cross. Two other criminals were crucified with him, their crosses on either side of him. A sign above Jesus read "Jesus Nazarene, King of the Jews."

According to the Bible, on the third hour of the day, Jesus was nailed to the cross. (9:00 am). On the Sixth Hour of the day, darkness covered the land (12:00 noon). On the ninth hour of the day, the darkness dissipated, and the Lord died (3:00 pm). The hours in the scriptures are calculated from the first hour of the day, this being 6:00 in the morning. Christians believe that Jesus stood in our place in an ultimate sacrifice in order to liberate us from sin. His death paid the penalty not for his own wrong doings but for ours.

Since the early nineteenth century, before the introduction of bank holidays, Good Friday and Christmas Day were the only two days of leisure which were almost universally granted to working people. Good Friday today is still a public holiday in much of the Western world. This means that many businesses are closed on this day. Some Christians fast on Good Friday. This helps them remember the sacrifice Jesus made for them on the day of crucifixion. If people do not fast, it is traditional to eat fish on Good Friday instead of meat.

Many churches hold a special service. This may be a communion service in the evening or a time of prayer during the day, especially around 3 o'clock as that is about the time of day when Jesus died. Some Churches hold services lasting three hours or more. They may celebrate the Stations of the Cross, or take part in Passion plays and dramatic readings. Some Christians take part in a procession of witness, carrying a cross through the streets and then into church. Churches are not decorated on Good Friday. In some churches, pictures and statues are covered over. It is seen as a time of mourning.

It is traditional to eat warm “hot cross buns” on Good Friday. Hot Cross Buns with their combination of spicy, sweet and fruity flavours have long been an Easter tradition. The pastry cross on top of the buns symbolises and reminds Christians of the cross that Jesus was killed on. The buns were traditionally eaten at breakfast time, hot from the oven. They were once sold by street vendors who sang a little song about them.

“Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns, One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns.”

At the London Pub, The Widow's Son, a Hot Cross Bun Ceremony takes place each Good Friday. In the early 19th century, a widow who lived on the site was expecting her sailor son back home for Easter, and placed a hot cross bun ready for him on Good Friday. The son never returned, but undaunted the widow left the bun waiting for him and added a new bun each year. Successive landlords have kept the tradition going after the pub was opened.

There are a number of superstitions relating to Good Friday. Traditionally Good Friday was the day when everything was cleaned and whitewashed in preparation for Easter Sunday.

From the reign of Edward III to that of Mary Tudor, monarchs used to bless a plateful of gold and silver rings every Good Friday at the Chapel Royal. By rubbing the rings between their fingers, the royal touch was believed to cure cramp and epilepsy. The custom was abolished during the reign of Elizabeth I.

• A child born on Good Friday and baptised on Easter Sunday has the gift of healing.
• Many fishermen will not set out for catch on Good Friday.
• Bread or cakes baked on this day will not go mouldy.
• Eggs laid on Good Friday will never go bad.
• The planting of crops is not advised on this day, as an old belief says that no iron should enter the ground (i.e. spade, pitchfork etc.).
• Hot cross buns baked on Good Friday were supposed to have magical powers. It is said that you could keep a hot cross bun which had been made on Good Friday for at least a year and it wouldn't go mouldy.
• Hardened old hot cross buns are supposed to protect the house from fire
• Sailors took hot cross buns to sea with them to prevent shipwreck.
• A bun baked on Good Friday and left to get hard could be grated up and put in some warm milk to stop an upset tummy.
• Having a hair cut on Good Friday will prevent toothaches the rest of the year.

Hot Cross Buns
(recipe makes 24) Ingredients
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
4 eggs
5 cup flour
1 1/3 cup currants or raisins
1 egg white

1 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1-2 Tbsp milk

In a small saucepan, heat milk to very warm, but not hot. Pour warm milk in a bowl and sprinkle yeast over it. Mix to dissolve and let sit for 5 minutes. Stirring constantly, add sugar, salt, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Gradually mix in flour, dough will be wet and sticky. Continue kneading until smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough "rest" for 30-45 minutes.

Knead again until smooth and elastic, for about 3 more minutes. Add currants or raisins and knead until well mixed. At this point, dough will still be fairly wet and sticky. Shape dough in a ball, place in a buttered dish, cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the refrigerator. Excess moisture will be absorbed by the morning.

Let dough sit at room temperature for about a half-hour. Line a large baking pan (or pans) with parchment paper (you could also lightly grease a baking pan, but parchment works better). Divide dough into 24 equal pieces (in half, half again, etc., etc.). Shape each portion into a ball and place on baking sheet, about 2 centimetres apart. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, pre-heat oven to 200° C.

When buns have risen, take a sharp or serrated knife and carefully slash buns with a cross. Brush them with egg white and place in oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F, then bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack. Whisk together glaze ingredients, and spoon over buns in a cross pattern. Serve warm, if possible.

Stories abound about the origins of the Hot Cross Bun. Yet, the common thread throughout is the symbolism of the "cross" of icing which adorns the bun itself. Some say that the origin of Hot Cross Buns dates back to the 12th century, when an Angelican monk was said to have placed the sign of the cross on the buns, to honor Good Friday, a Christian holiday also known as the Day of the Cross. Supposedly, this pastry was the only thing permitted to enter the mouths of the faithful on this holy day.

Other accounts talk of an English widow, whose son went off to sea. She vowed to bake him a bun every Good Friday. When he didn't return she continued to bake a hot cross bun for him each year and hung it in the bakery window in good faith that he would some day return to her. The English people kept the tradition for her even after she passed away.

Others say that Hot Cross Buns have pagan roots as part of spring festivals and that the monks simply added the cross to convert people to Christianity.

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