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Easter 2017: How we compare with other nations on Good Friday observance

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Good Friday just got slightly more lively in Australia – this year for the first time there’s a footy match in Victoria and a horse race in Western Australia – but otherwise it’s still the quietest day of the year. The liquor stores and supermarkets are shut, businesses close, restaurants and cafes are (mostly) shuttered and the banks are empty.

But in many other countries around the world – even nations predominantly Catholic – Good Friday is no big deal.

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Easter customs around the world

Spanking rituals and exploding wagons are just some of the ways Easter is celebrated across the globe.

Even in Rome, home to the Vatican, people will be drinking in bars and clubs, dining in restaurants and cashing a cheque if they so wish.

Sorry Australia, no bottle shops for you on Good Friday.

Inch by inch, however, attitudes are changing to Good Friday.

This year for the first time ever, the AFL has scheduled a match on Good Friday, with North Melbourne to play the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. Also this year, Western Australia’s Ascot will become the first Australian racing club to stage a horse race on the once sacrosanct day.

When the AFL decided to give the Good Friday match a go, they said the decision was made because “society has changed in recent decades and the majority of football fans, who are our ultimate decision-makers, share the view of our clubs who have expressed their wish to play on this day”.

North Melbourne will clash with the Western Bulldogs on Good Friday.

North Melbourne will clash with the Western Bulldogs on Good Friday. Photo: Getty Images

Here’s how we compare to some major predominantly-Christian economies.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Good Friday is a bank holiday in Britain, but most restaurants and shops remain open over the four-day weekend. Certainly sport isn’t banned. In fact, the Good Friday football betting scandal featuring Manchester United and Liverpool in 1915 remains one of the worst cheating episodes in the code.

Notably in 2010, the good publicans of Limerick, Ireland won the right to be exempt from the prohibition on selling alcohol due to a rugby union game. It was the first time since 1927 a pub had opened its doors in Ireland on Good Friday.

United States

Easter is not a national holiday in the States. Bottle shops and bars trade as usual. Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games are played even in the Bible Belt.

Several Major League Baseball games will be played in the United States on Good Friday.

Several Major League Baseball games will be played in the United States on Good Friday. Photo: AP

The US stock market is a different story. After being closed off and on, 1907 was the final year in which the exchange was open on Good Friday. One theory goes that for two or three years in a row during the 1890s, there was a big fall in the market on Good Friday. Traders assumed it was word from God himself.

Canada

Yes, it’s a public holiday but unlike in Australia, you can shop ’til you drop on Good Friday in Canada. Malls and shops remain open even as schools and government services take a break.

Brazil

While 60 per cent of the citizens of the largest country in South America are Catholic, their Good Friday public holiday is not too strictly observed – even though it’s part of a four-day public holiday that starts on the Thursday. But shops and cafes are open and the streets are buzzing.

France and Germany

Despite more than 80 per cent of French people being Catholic, Good Friday is not a public holiday. The only exception is if you venture into the north-eastern provinces of Alsace and Moselle. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are legal holidays in Germany.

Strasbourg in Alsace, France, where Good Friday is a public holiday.

Strasbourg in Alsace, France, where Good Friday is a public holiday. Photo: iStock

Italy

Italy has its public holiday on Lunedi dell’Angelo or La Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter Sunday. Some shops close on Good Friday but as this explainer states, there are deeply religious regions of Italy that still play football on the holy day.

Spain

Easter is a serious affair in Madrid with 20 holy processions taking place in the streets over the days before Easter Sunday. Stores close but museums and restaurants stay open.

Penitents take part in the Good Friday 'Del Santo Entierro' procession in the small village of Bercianos de Aliste, northern Spain

Penitents take part in the Good Friday ‘Del Santo Entierro’ procession in the small village of Bercianos de Aliste, northern Spain Photo: AP

Greece

Meanwhile, in Greece, Orthodox Good Friday falls on April 14 too, the same date as Roman Catholic Good Friday. And in Greece, where Easter is a much more important cultural event than Christmas, they do take this day seriously. Most shops close along with post offices, public services and most museums and ancient sites.

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