The air on Good Friday always held a curious duality in our house. A somber quietude permeated the morning, a reflection of the solemn events we acknowledged at church. Yet, by afternoon, a warm, yeasty aroma would snake its way through the house, transforming the atmosphere into one of bustling anticipation. The sweet scent of fresh-baked pastry announced the arrival of a tradition as ingrained in our Easter celebration as the dyeing of eggs or treat-filled baskets: the baking of cinnamon rolls.

I was born and raised Catholic, a branch of Christianity. In Christianity, Good Friday is a holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. It is a solemn day of mourning and reflection for Christians, and it’s a significant day because it remembers the sacrifice that Jesus made for humanity. On Good Friday, many Christians attend church services to hear about and reflect on the events of Jesus’ Passion. Some people also fast or abstain from certain foods as a sign of mourning. Even though it is called "Good" Friday, the name doesn't refer to happy events of the day. Instead, it refers to the goodness that came out of Jesus' sacrifice, according to Christian belief. Easter Sunday, which is the following Sunday, is a joyous occasion that celebrates Jesus' resurrection after His ultimate sacrifice.

Good Friday 2017; Kennedy Dierks

For our family, Good Friday is a day of preparation for Easter. Since us Catholic school kids have the day off school, we gather in the morning and start preparing the dough — yeast, flour, eggs, et cetera — over coffee, dividing and conquering. Aunt Deanna is prepping the yeast; Terri is buttering the pans; Taylor is cracking the eggs, I’m holding someone’s baby.

Next, we roll out huge slabs of our dough, coat it with copious amounts of butter, and then douse it with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. (The cinnamon and sugar ratio, though, may depend on who you ask. I always opt for more cinnamon.) From there, roll the dough tightly, creating a long snake of butter, sugar, cinnamon, and pastry, which we then cut into discs.

Kennedy Dierks

Once the dough is prepared and the pans have been stuffed to the edges with these satisfyingly-symmetric discs of dough, we might head to church for Stations of the Cross while we wait for it to rise. Here, we reflect on Jesus’ Passion quietly and prayerfully and acknowledge His intense suffering at the foot of the cross. Just as Jesus laid in the tomb for two days before His Resurrection, we as Catholics sit in mourning from Good Friday through midnight on Easter Sunday. We fast (with the exception of the cinnamon roll end pieces, aka “the rejects”), and may go to church services.

On Easter, though, we celebrate. We break our Lenten fasts (there’s nothing like a crisp Diet Coke at 10 a.m. on Easter) and indulge in the dozens and dozens of cinnamon rolls we prepared the previous Friday. We spend the morning baking the dozens of cookie sheets of raw pastries we prepared, and slather them in homemade icing.

Good Friday 2022, Kennedy Dierks

Oftentimes, the kids and, let’s be honest, the adults too, will get carried away, eating upwards of a dozen cinnamon rolls — and promptly puking them up (looking at you, little bro).

Our cinnamon roll tradition dates back to the late 1800s with my Grandma Joyce’s grandpa, Nicholas Hoffman (my Great-Great-Grandfather). Nicholas and his wife, along with their three kids, were immigrants from France heading to America until someone on the boat convinced them that Canada was the place to be instead. So, they rerouted, landing in the Great White North where they opened up the first Hoffman family bakery until they, according to my own mother, “Froze their asses off and went broke.” From there, they headed South to the much-warmer City of Angels and re-opened the Hoffman Bakery in California, where the OG cinnamon roll recipe was born.

Nicholas Hoffman (left) with his wife and daughter outside their Los Angeles bakery, 1916; The Diemer Family

It’s not just the recipe that’s been handed down from generation to generation, but the tradition of gathering together to make food that we will enjoy together. Sure, KitchenAid stand mixers have replaced decades of hand-mixing, but the traditions of overheating the yeast or forgetting if the recipe calls for two or three eggs persists.

A huge part of Catholicism is our traditions: Mass, consecrating and consuming the Eucharist, and other sacraments such as Matrimony or Baptism constitute very important parts of our faith. Although Good Friday is a day of fasting, preparing food for Easter helps us embrace the traditional aspect of our religion. Baking cinnamon rolls is a tradition that has survived depressions, world wars, and global pandemics; it’s persisted through moves, major illnesses, and new generations, and continues to be handed down to the younger kids in our family — just as Catholicism has.

Making cinnamon rolls together over Zoom on Good Friday in 2020; Kennedy Dierks

We still have the old recipe cards written by my great grandma and great aunts. The recipe is hung up on the wall of my cousin’s house, written in my grandma’s handwriting – a lovely testament to her and her memory. It’s a recipe that, yes, some people have asked for, but it stays within our family. If you want the somewhat-secret Hoffman Cinnamon Roll Recipe, odds are you’ll have to marry in.

One of my favorite family memories is teaching my five-year-old cousin how to crack an egg while preparing cinnamon rolls. Every year, we have the opportunity to teach my young cousins about God’s love for humanity while we teach them how to make Great-Great-Great Grandpa Hoffman’s cinnamon rolls; just as my mom taught me, and one day I hope to teach my kids. It’s a recipe that has been in our family for generations.

Kennedy Dierks

While the origins of cinnamon rolls on Good Friday may not be directly tied to the religious holiday, the tradition holds such special meaning for my family. The act of baking together signifies the love and compassion we share, mirroring the spirit of Easter. The sweet, finished rolls reminds us of the promise of new beginnings, and the rising dough echoes the concept of The Resurrection and Jesus’ rising to new life. Our tradition has become a way to celebrate the true message of Easter in a unique and personal way: a message of personal connection, hope, and joy, passed on from generation to generation.