When I was growing up, often on Good Friday my father would get off work early, and my mother would be waiting for him to arrive home so that they could go to the Italian market to finish off the Easter holiday food shopping. Years later, I remember some office staff asking the Department Chair for time off from 12 to 3 because it was Good Friday, which he happily agreed to, and they then happily enjoyed at the local mall. While for most of American history Good Friday was probably a regular workday for most people, it has often enjoyed this residual quasi-holiday character, rooted in its sometime status as a holyday/holiday in Europe.
Pope Urban VIII had already recognized in 1642 that Good Friday was becoming an ordinary workday. Pius XII's Holy Week reform in 1955 referenced that and sought to boost attendance by moving the Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday services to evening and Good Friday to afternoon. There was, as I recall, an actual increase in attendance at such ceremonies in the immediate aftermath of the 1955 reform - until both the novelty wore off and other social changes had their inevitable effects. When I was a pastor, attendance at the official liturgical services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, while nothing to brag about, was certainly respectable, Better attended and much more popular, however, were the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, possibly a matter of scheduling but more likely because so much simpler and shorter than the liturgical rites.
Meanwhile the Good Friday liturgy has increasingly in the U.S. become more a mournful commemoration of Christ's crucifixion and death and less part of the unitary celebration of the paschal mystery, which it originally was. (This transformation has occurred mainly at the level of popular piety and is reflected, for example, in the kind of songs sung often in place of the traditional chants on Good Friday, but also in the liturgy itself in the displacement of the two readings traditionally read on Good Friday for more than a millennium, Hosea 6:1-6 and Exodus 12:1-11, both of which evoke the larger paschal mystery more than just Jesus' death.)
Last year, of course, I celebrated Good Friday in an empty church. It will be interesting to see what attendance is like in churches this year and which sorts of services are favored by more people.
(Photo: The 1903 Hewit Crucifix, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY.)