Should the City of Bloomington Recognize Good Friday?

Mayor John Hamilton of Bloomington, Indiana has made news by changing the name of Good Friday to “Spring Holiday” and Columbus Day to “Fall Holiday.”

The first reflex of many Christians at the name change for “Good Friday” is to howl in protest. That impulse should be resisted. Our response instead should be to go back to our fundamental beliefs and see this change as an opportunity to realize what high demands our Christian faith puts on us.

crucifixionAccording to the Gospel of John, Jesus said to Pilate right before he was crucified, “My kingship is not of this world.” However much the mayor’s decision feels like a desecration of something holy, he’s actually helping us see what Jesus’s words mean. If the world, or in this case the city of Bloomington, will no longer recognize the kingship of Jesus, our response should be to put the burden on ourselves and devote our energies to living out that kingship as individual believers and as a Church.

For at least a millennium and a half, Christianity has enjoyed a privileged status in the western world. The default assumption has been that pretty much everyone is Christian. Governments have recognized Christianity down the centuries, and even promoted it.

This is now ending. Society is getting more diverse, and increasing numbers of U.S. citizens are checking out of organized religion and not attending church. Government at all levels in the U.S. is responding by moving toward neutrality toward all religions, including Christianity.

Instead of trying to get worldly power back, Christians should get used to no longer having favored status. If the government will no longer do our work for us, we will have to do that work ourselves, with God’s grace. If we now have to build up the Church in circumstances very different from what we’re used to, we should welcome the opportunity.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, true to form, reacted to the mayor’s decision with a belligerent hypersensitivity that does the Church’s reputation no favors:

“[Mayor Hamilton] opted to rename Good Friday ‘Spring Holiday,’ because he doesn’t mind offending Christians. Yes, it is just that simple.”

But there’s nothing offensive about the mayor’s action. As for the loss of worldly power and privileged status: Isn’t that what happened to Jesus on the first Good Friday? We Christians have gotten so used to special treatment that we can’t imagine having to live for a kingdom not of this world. If Jesus could undergo crucifixion without fighting back, you’d think his followers could undergo this loss of worldly power a bit more graciously. We’re not being crucified. We’re not even being persecuted. We’re just being treated like other people.

On the day the world in some places calls “Spring Holiday,” good-friday-intercession-10there’s plenty for Christians to do on “Good Friday.” We can fast, we can pray, we can keep silence, we can read the Bible. We can feed the poor and visit the imprisoned. We can stand up for victims of discrimination, such as immigrants and Muslims. We can share with our young people the great adventure of living by a Gospel this world doesn’t know. We can strive for a Christ-like humility that might well draw some unchurched people to our way of life.

We don’t need the City of Bloomington to do any of those things. Let’s get at it.


Art work: The Crucifixion by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo (1617-1682), c. 1675.
Chant: Final intercession, Liturgy of Good Friday, Roman Missal.


  1. This quite naturally invites a question for the good mayor to answer:

    When does the annual Spring Holiday occur each year? What’s the basis for that determination? (It’s not like the calculation of the date of Easter has any basis in American civil law.)

    While we can accept and embrace a less civilly privileged status for Christianity, that doesn’t mean gestures of this sort need to be spared scrutiny, unless one is proposing that Christians always be mute (be very careful where that leads).

    There is a perfectly secular rationale for public holidays for public servants celebrating major religious observances: they (and students, et cet.) are more likely to take the day off anyway if it weren’t a holiday, so one has a resourcing and capacity issues. This is demographically ruddered: a relatively fringe demonination (say, Roman Catholicism in much of the rural American South for many generations) is much less likely to trigger such a situation. But a relatively mainstream or of course dominant denomination will. That’s not just a religious issue, but a secular one. Demography and culture can toggle: witness the (in)famous toggle in Massachusetts in the 18th-19th centuries over the (non-)celebration of Christmas….

  2. This is the first that I’ve ever heard of Good Friday being a holiday. Here in Puritan New England Christmas is a new fangled Anglican holiday, as it were.

  3. Good Friday (western calendar) is a public holiday in a number of US states, but *not* Indiana, (and very commonly a holiday for public school calendars across the nation, and has been for a long while).

    And there’s a good story in ‘The Fever of 1721,’ by Stephen Coss (a great book about the smallpox epidemic in Boston that proved to be first major scientifically documented succesful instance of inoculation in European-controlled lands; it had been earlier used outside Europe with success), about Governor Samuel Shute’s unsuccessful effort to force the colonial legislature and the town of Boston to observe Christmas – with Congregationalist forces crowing at their success in keeping the business of the town of Boston humming in action during that day. But Boston’s demography changed in the 19th century, and Christmas was eventually embraced (and Catholics no longer persecuted for celebrating it) after a struggle.

  4. AWR if we lived your message, all people would call that a good Friday. I very much appreciate that the notion of reliegious liberty was not cited. I don’t live anywhere near Indianapolis but your challenge makes me rethink what that day might be for me in 2017.

  5. And Euro-American securities exchanges are closed on Good Friday for a reason nearly everyone has forgotten: the centuries-old taboo on speculation, games of chance or gambling on the day where the Roman soldiers cast lots for our Lord’s robe…

    1. @John Kohanski:
      And Connecticut is one of the six New England states.

      And while it may not be a state holiday in the other five New England states, municipal offices often close at noon, regardless of the lack of a state-level holiday. Precisely because so many employees have been Catholic in recent generations.

  6. What’s next, calling Christmas Winter Holiday? Why is it that Christianity is the only religion that has to give something up in order to avoid offending others? Has anybody complained? I don’t see a problem with the city of Bloomington calling it Good Friday. It’s not like the city is telling people why this particular Friday is Good, and why pretend the reason that day is being given off isn’t because a large number of people have a religious observance on this day? It’s this kind of thing that gives political correctness a bad name and leads people to believe for all the talk about celebrating diversity, it includes everybody and everything but them.

    1. @Jay Edward:
      The reason Christianity is the only religion that has something it ought to give up is because some kingdoms of this earth have attached their interests to Christianity’s days like barnacles. “Keep Christ in Christmas,” we are urged when the one doing the urging, who thinks he is a Christian, wants us to PUT Christ in Advent, a/k/a the shopping season. Which is, on my calendar, a time of waiting for him to come, not to be here. For what the United States does to and before Dec. 25, Winter Holiday is a much more appropriate name. It can have the name, and I will keep Christmas at Christmas, which begins Dec. 25 and runs, minimally, until Jan. 6 (actually longer in theory if not in general practice).

      1. @Rita Ferrone:
        What’s surprising is that they don’t opt for the perfectly secular “New Year’s Holiday”. There’s a certain predictable drone-like dullness to these kind of developments.

        Growing up as I did in a school district with a Catholic-Protestant-Jewish split that seemed to be about 50-25-25%, we had Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur off; the timing of the Paschal holiday, as it were, depended on the relative placement of Passover vs Good Friday – if Passover began early in western Holy Week (Monday or Wednesday night – can’t fall on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday night if memory serves), we got Holy Week off, if it began during the Triduum (Friday or Saturday night), we’d get Easter week off (for Jewish leap years, when Passover was 4 weeks later, I can’t remember what was done).

        Nowadays, we’d probably add Eid and Diwali to the mix.

  7. In Australia Good Friday is a public holiday, and the shops do not open until later in the morning. The populace are not sure why, but it does provide a good environment for worship.
    My research in the naming of the day in English as ‘Good’ has always turned up empty: does anyone have an etymology for the English name

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