Today is Good Friday. This auspicious day commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ. As I write this post, millions of Christians have congregated in their respective parishes to honor the sacrifice that 1st century Palestinian Jewish carpenter made to atone for the sins of humankind.
Ironically, in Malayalam, this day is referred to as Dukha Velli (sorrowful Friday). This designation is appropiate given the series of gloomy, and gory events that were famously (or infamously) dramatized in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
But why do we, in the Anglosphere, refer to this day as “Good Friday”? What’s so “good” about today?
If you had attended Sunday School as a child, you’d be familiar with the trite explaination for this contradiction. As innocent (well, not so innocent) tykes, we were told that we call today “Good Friday” because we are celebrating our redemption from the bondages of sin. Therefore, today is aptly referred to as “Good Friday” because, when you look past the lamentable agony Jesus endured, it was a good day.
Our Sunday School teachers meant well. After all, anyone who is capable of putting up with twenty or so screaming children deserves a trophy. However, like most people, the majority of Sunday School teachers aren’t familiar with the linguistic history of the English language.
Among linguists, there is a debate over where the “good” in “Good Friday” came from. Some speculate that “good” is actually a corruption of an old Anglo-Saxon word that means “God”. Therefore, “good Friday” was once called “God’s Friday” before the linguistic shift.
Others contend that the term “good” was once an archaic synonym for “holy”. It would make sense to refer to the day we commemorate the death of Jesus as a “Holy Friday”. This second theory actually has a stronger case. During Christmas, we wish “good tidings” to everyone. The day before Maundy Thursday is occasionally called “Good Wednesday”. So it is possible that we are using an outdated usage of the word “good” which has gotten lost in translation.
So whether you are observing “Good Friday” or “Dukha Velli” or “Viernes Santos” or “Karfreitag”, I hope you’ve had a solemn day of spiritual reflection.
And you’re a depraved heathen like myself, my best wishes go to you as well