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Good Friday Haircuts and Seaweed for Dinner
by Bridget Haggerty

The name Good Friday is generally believed to be a corruption of God's Friday. In Ireland, since the days of the early church, it has always been dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. As might be expected, it was the severest day of Lenten austerity. Most people went beyond even the black fast prescribed by the church. They ate nothing at all until midday and even then, all they took was three mouthfuls of bread and three sips of water - three being in honor of the Holy Trinity.

Little or no work was done on the land, except for the planting of a small quantity of grain or potatoes to invoke a blessing on the crops. The rest of the time was spent making sure the house, yard and out-buildings were clean and tidy.

Within the house, the women and girls loosened their hair and allowed it to hang down as a symbol of mourning. They, and the children, would also go barefoot throughout the day. The men and boys trimmed their finger and toenails and also cut their hair. According to superstition, a haircut on Good Friday would prevent headaches during the coming year.

Several other superstitions and customs were associated with the day:

•A child born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday was said to have the gift of healing. If it was a boy, it was expected that he would enter the ministry and attain a high position in the church.

•If a person should die on Good Friday and was buried on Easter Sunday, he or she was sure of immediate entry into Heaven.

•Eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross and each member of the family ate one of these on Easter Sunday. Eggs set to hatch on this day were said to produce healthy birds.

•No one would move house or begin any important business.

•No blood could be shed which meant that animals or birds could not be slaughtered.

•No one could work with wood or burn it, and no nail could be driven.

• No fishing boats went to sea, and all fishing nets or lines were left idle. On the east coast, boats in the harbor would be left lying towards the quay wall and, in coastal communities everywhere, the residents gathered shellfish and edible seaweed which they ate as their main meal. The Gaelic for this “shore food” is bia tragha.

From 12 noon until 3 pm, the three hours that according to tradition, Jesus hung on the cross, silence was observed, and families gathered together to meditate and pray. It was expected that the sky would darken. In fact, dark, dreary, cold and wet weather was welcomed as a sign that nature was in mourning for the Saviour, too.

Many people went to the church and it was the custom to remove one’s shoes before going inside. Families also visited the graveyards to pray for the dead and many people went to pray at holy wells. After going around a well a certain number of times on their bare knees, they would often take some of the water home with them because it was believed that if it was drawn on Good Friday, it had the power to cure illnesses.

When I was growing up, we'd be home from school and it was the custom in our family to attend church and “do the stations” between 12 noon and 3 pm. In the Roman Catholic religion, the stations are a pictorial rendition of the events that took place as Christ carried the cross to Calvary. It was such a very solemn occasion that, even as children, we knew we had to be on our best behavior.

My parents also observed a strict Lenten fast. I can’t recall them eating anything during the day and all my brothers and I were offered was hot tea without milk or sugar and dry toast. However, there was one special treat that was reserved for Good Friday evening: Hot Cross Buns! They’re not an Irish tradition, but they were so popular throughout the British Isles, my mother relented and bought one for each of us. Decorated with white, lemon flavored frosting in the shape of a cross, the insides were a rich, yeasty-tasting sweet bread filled with plump raisins; dipping one of these into black tea was a vast improvement over dry toast!

If you’ve ever wondered how Hot Cross Buns originated, it’s likely that they’ve come down to us from the ancient pagan custom of eating a special cake to honor the Saxon goddess of Spring, “Eostre”. The church tried to prohibit the custom but when they couldn’t, they gave the cakes a Christian meaning by blessing them and decorating them with crosses. Whatever their origins, when I was growing up, it wasn’t Good Friday without Hot Cross Buns and we'd all sing the following rhyme when Mum brought them to the table:

Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns!
One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!
If you don’t have daughters, then give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!

We explore the customs associated with Holy Saturday in Easter Saturday and a Funeral for a Fish.

May God keep you in the palm of His hand.

Resources: The Year In Ireland by Kevin Danaher.


Sun, Dec 4, 2016

Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*

Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.

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