Maundy Thursday: Origin, Date & How to Celebrate

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Nearly everyone knows about the Christian holiday of Easter. It’s a time for painted eggs, colorful gift baskets, and keeping a lookout for the Easter Bunny. Many people also know that week leading up to Easter is a religious period known as Holy Week.

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But a smaller percentage of people know that the fifth day of Holy Week is its own Christian holiday, called Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, falls on the Thursday before Easter every year. And there’s plenty to learn about this unique Christian holiday. 

Whether you’re preparing to observe Maundy Thursday, or you just want to know what it’s all about, you can learn about the holy date below. 

What is Maundy Thursday?

In the religion of Christianity, Easter marks and celebrates the occasion of Jesus’s resurrection. The week leading up to Easter Sunday commemorates other key events. 

For example, Good Friday marks the occasion of Jesus’s crucifixion and death. And the day before that, Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’s Last Supper. 

While Easter Sunday is the most joyous and momentous occasion according to the Christian holy calendar, the day known as Maundy Thursday is also important. 

History

Maundy Thursday marks the day, according to Christian theology, when Christ celebrated his last Passover dinner before death. It’s thought that, at this Last Supper, Jesus set forth a crucial commandment to his Apostles:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34)

Maundy Thursday recognizes the Last Supper that Jesus ate with the Apostles. It’s the day before Good Friday, which commemorates the date Jesus is thought to have died. It’s also just a few days before Easter Sunday, which marks the day when Jesus is thought to have risen from the dead. 

Why is it called Maundy Thursday?

The name Maundy Thursday has historical and religious roots. According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ washed the feet of his Apostles at the Last Supper. After performing the ritual, Jesus is thought to have spoken his commandment, as described above.  The Latin word for “commandment” is mandatum, which is where Maundy Thursday gets its original root. 

From mandatum, the Old French language gained the word mande, which referred to the commandment set forth by Jesus at the Last Supper. From there, the Middle English language created the word maunde, which later became the word maundy still used today. 

The Thursday before Easter has been known as Maundy Thursday since the mid-1500s. 

Where you can celebrate

Maundy Thursday is celebrated wherever there are Christian churches or communities. Many churches hold special Holy Week services, where members and guests can join in prayer. In many nations, Maundy Thursday is a public holiday. In most churches, other events—including Christian funerals—are prohibited on Maundy Thursday. 

Across the world, there are also some unique Maundy Thursday observations and celebrations. For example, the Pope traditionally marks Maundy Thursday by following Christ’s example. He washes and kisses the feet of 12 people, who are typically members of the Christian Church. The Queen, in the United Kingdom, traditionally gives out coins called Maundy Money to senior citizens. 

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When Does Maundy Thursday Take Place?

As its name suggests, Maundy Thursday always takes place on Thursday each year. This means that the exact date of the holiday changes annually, just as the date of Easter changes each year. 

Maundy Thursday is held the Thursday before Easter, during what’s known as Holy Week according to Christian tradition. Maundy Thursday is always the day before Good Friday on the Christian Calendar. 

Below are some of the upcoming dates for Maundy Thursday so you can mark your calendar. 

  • 2021: April 1
  • 2022: April 14
  • 2023: April 6
  • 2024: March 24
  • 2025: April 17

How Can You Celebrate Maundy Thursday?

Most holy holidays have special rites and rituals that help mark the occasion. And Maundy Thursday is no different. If you want to celebrate Maundy Thursday, consider taking part in some of the unique traditions described below. 

Attend mass

The main way to celebrate and observe Maundy Thursday is by attending a religious mass. On the morning of Maundy Thursday, many Catholic and Christian churches offer a Chrism Mass, which features the oils used in baptisms, holy orders, and confirmations.

Churches can also offer an evening mass on Maundy Thursday, which typically features the ritual ringing of bells. 

Eat green foods

In some German-speaking and central European nations, Maundy Thursday is called Green Thursday. This name is inspired by the tradition of eating green-colored foods on this holy day. 

The tradition may have stemmed from the medieval practice of priests wearing green vestments on Holy Thursday. It could also come from the similarity between the German words for mourn (grunen) and green (grun). 

However, the true inspiration for eating green foods on Maundy Thursday is likely the Jewish Passover tradition of eating bitter green herbs. Jesus likely consumed this type of meal at the Last Supper. 

Visit seven churches

In larger cities, where there are many Churches, some Catholics maintain a tradition of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday. If you can swing it, you can follow the tradition by visiting the altar of repose in seven different local churches. 

It’s thought that this tradition began in Rome, where a Saint visited the seven major basilicas in the city on Holy Thursday. It also represents the seven stops made on the night of Jesus’s arrest. 

Remember loved ones

Maundy Thursday is the last day Jesus lived before his death and resurrection. That makes it a good opportunity to commemorate your own loved ones that may have passed away. Take some time on Maundy Thursday to remember a family member

Wash someone’s feet

Maundy Thursday marks the day of the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ washed the feet of his Apostles. To celebrate Maundy Thursday, you can take part in this sacred rite. The Foot-Washing Ceremony is meant to inspire humility, as well as renew the cleansing offered by Christ. 

If you have 12 family members or close friends, consider inviting them over for a Maundy Thursday foot-washing ritual. According to Christian tradition, it’s customary to wash the feet of 12 people, just as Jesus washed his 12 Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. 

Give to the less fortunate

Another ancient tradition related to Maundy Thursday is the distribution of Maundy Money. Traditionally, Maundy Money was a special type of coin that was minted for the occasion and given to a few select elderly citizens. Kings would hand out Maundy Money instead of performing the traditional foot-washing ceremony, beginning in around the 18th century. 

As mentioned above, the Queen of the United Kingdom continues to the Maundy Money tradition to this day by doling out donations to senior citizens. But you don’t have to have special Maundy Money to participate in this tradition.

You can continue the tradition of Maundy Money by giving to the less fortunate. Consider making a donation of money to your favorite charity, or donate food to your local shelter. 

Grab some almonds

In addition to green foods and bitter leafy herbs, you can add some sweetness to your dinner table with Jordan almonds. Most people recognize these colorful snacks as popular wedding favors. But they also have historical and religious meaning. Jordan almonds are thought to represent purity—especially when they’re white in color. 

Jordan almonds, also known as “confetti” are traditionally eaten on Maundy Thursday in Latin Countries, but you can consume the tasty snack wherever you are in the world to celebrate the holy day.

What’s the Meaning of Maundy Thursday?

The underlying meaning of the Easter holiday has been largely lost over time. But for Christians who celebrate Maundy Thursday, the meaning of Holy Week is key. In addition to Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, and Good Friday, Maundy Thursday is one of the key days of Holy Week. 

If you’re celebrating Maundy Thursday this year, take a moment to consider the historic and religious meaning of the holiday. Even if you don’t practice Christianity, there’s always value in understanding religious holidays and death in different cultures. And if you have any friends who are Christian, you’ll be better able to support them in their Maundy Thursday celebrations and observations. 


Sources

  1. “Maundy Thursday.” Online Etymology Dictionary. www.etymonline.com/word/Maundy%20Thursday#etymonline_v_12450
  2. “What Is Maundy Thursday?” Christianity.com. www.christianity.com/christian-life/what-is-maundy-thursday-11628350.html
  3. Miller, Jennifer. “Traditions of Holy Thursday.” 23 March 2016. www.catholicculture.org/commentary/traditions-holy-thursday/
  4. “Maundy Thursday.” Fish Eaters. www.fisheaters.com/customslent13.html
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