Good Friday

Good Friday
   It is startling that this, the most mournful day in the Christian calendar, is a cheerful Bank Holiday, and a traditional date for various games such as *skipping and *marbles. Traditionally, it was the day for certain tasks in the vegetable garden, notably planting potatoes and peas, and sowing parsley; some thought the Devil had no power to spoil crops planted on this holy day, but there was probably also the practical reason that men were free to work for their own benefit. However, this was not true everywhere; in North Yorkshire in the 1860s, 'great care (was) taken not to disturb the earth in any way; it were impious to use spade, plough or harrow . . . a villager . . . shocked his neighbours by planting potatoes on Good Friday, but they never came up' (Henderson, 1866: 61-2).
   For women, the main taboo was on washing clothes; it would bring extreme bad luck, even death, and moreover anything hung out to dry would be spotted with blood - baking, in contrast, was very beneficial. Some said this was because Jesus, on the way to Calvary, cursed a woman who threw dirty water at him, but blessed one who gave him bread (M. Murray-Aynsley, Symbolism of East and West, (1900), 162).
   Throughout England, special buns, marked with a cross, were made on Good Friday and eaten toasted for breakfast; they were referred to as 'Cross buns' or 'Good Friday buns'. There are references to the custom early in the 19th century, so phrased as to imply that it had been current for several generations (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 177). The modern unvarying phrase 'hot cross buns' derives from the 18th-century street vendors' cry:
   Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns!
   Give them to your daughters, give them to your sons!
   One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!
   Some of the loaves and buns were baked for many hours, to dry out completely; they never went mouldy, but would keep for a year or more, and were grated and used as medicine, especially for diarrhoea. Also, Hone noted:
   In the houses of some ignorant people, a Good Friday bun is still kept 'for luck', and sometimes there hangs from the ceiling a hard biscuit-like cake of open cross-work . . . to remain there till displaced on the next Good Friday by one of similar make; and of this the editor ... has heard affirmed, that it preserves the house from fire. (Hone, 1827: i. 31)
   There are occasional Victorian references to *fishermen's wives giving their husbands a bun to take to sea to avert shipwreck (Henderson, 1879: 82; Simpson, 1973: 112); the maritime link and the custom of permanent display find dramatic expression in the *Widow's Son Bun Ceremony.
   There are a few records from the 1920s of a belief that an egg laid on Good Friday will keep fresh all year, and (from Somerset) that a *fire can be extinguished by throwing such an egg into it (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 178); there are many European parallels to this idea, showing that it is no mere imitation of the bun belief (Newall, 1971: 232-7).
   See also *cramp rings, *marbles, *skipping.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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