One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Romans 14:5
A holiday around some of the world
by Roger Childs
Good Friday has tremendous significance for the minority who are devout Christians, but for the vast majority it is just another holiday added on to the Easter weekend. It is a public holiday in 29 countries, but in only 13 states in America where there is a much higher proportion of church-going Christians than in New Zealand.
Today there is no paper and the vast majority of shops are shut because of the Shop Trading Hours Act. Businesses, with some exceptions like service stations, may risk prosecution if they open on Good Friday, but there are no such restrictions on Queens Birthday, Labour Day or Waitangi Day.
Is it time to rethink what we do in New Zealand?
A moveable feast
Good Friday is remembered by Christians as the time when Jesus Christ was crucified on Calvary — it is the most solemn day in the church calendar.
But as we all know, there is a different date every year for Easter and of course Good Friday. Way back in 325 AD the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the northern hemisphere’s Spring equinox.
We’ve recently had the equinox when the overhead sun on its way north, was directly above the equator, and the full moon is in the sky. Easter is nigh.
A day of great religious and artistic significance
When I was young, Good Friday was the climax of holy week and was commemorated by all Christian faiths.
Most Anglican parishes featured a three hour service from 12.00 – 3.00 pm consisting of a series of short sermons on the passion of Christ, hymns, readings and prayers. Worshippers were free to come and go during the singing of the hymns.
Some of those hymns sung on Good Friday and at other times, are among the most poignant in the rich heritage of sacred music.
~ O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded
~ When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
~ Rock Of Ages
~ Abide With Me
Not surprisingly, the passion of Christ has been a popular subject for artists and sculptors, often patronised by religious leaders, such as popes, across the ages. In the pantheon of art iconography, the crucifixion is second only to the Madonna and child as a religious subject.
It has been rendered by scores of artists from Giotto di Bondone to Salvador Dali in an amazing range of styles.
Athiests, agnostics and many historians question whether the crucifixion actually happened, as the historical record is vague and the biblical gospels that record it were written decades after the “event”.
However, for devout Christians it has huge significance, but should it be a public holiday when there are some limitations affecting everyone?
Useful lessons from the Americans?
It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and of the worst. Leonard Cohen.
What is done in the United States has had a huge impact on culture and practice around the world. To what extent this is a positive is highly debatable, however sometimes the Americans set good examples.
Individual states can have their own public holidays and in some places they remember Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday and that of Susan B. Anthony, the American women’s suffrage pioneer.
The public holidays observed nation-wide are mainly based around historical events:
- Columbus Day
- Independence Day
- George Washington’s Birthday
- Martin Luther King Day.
New Zealand holidays: some new ones?
Should the strongly held opinions of a minority, determine what happens on Good Friday for the vast majority, as regards having a morning paper to read and access to the supermarket?
Many would argue that shop owners and staff deserve a break. However wouldn’t Labour Day, which commemorates the adoption of the 40 hour working week in New Zealand, be more appropriate?
Perhaps in New Zealand we could have a Kate Sheppard Day on 19 September to commemorate the day in 1893 when women were finally given the vote.
What about an Edmund Hillary Day on 20 July to remember one of the greatest New Zealand heroes of all time?
There are plenty of other possibilities, however the time may well have come to remove Good Friday from the list of public holidays, and give as many workers as possible a break on Labour Day.