Have you ever wondered why the date of the Easter holiday varies so much from year to year? It can be as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. So why the difference?
Would you be surprised to know that the date pf the Christian festival depends on the appearance of a full moon? Yes, that´s right, a full moon – the same phenomenon celebrated by pagans 13 times a year.
Added to that, the date of Easter is worked out in a most convoluted fashion.
According to the Bible, Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred around the time of the Jewish Passover, which was celebrated on the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
This soon led to Christians celebrating Easter on different dates. At the end of the 2nd century, some churches celebrated Easter on the day of the Passover, while others celebrated it on the following Sunday.
In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. In practice, that means that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21. Easter can occur as early as March 22 and as late as April 25, depending on when the paschal full moon falls.
And, if that isn’t bad enough, the Church does not use the exact date of the paschal full moon but an approximation, because the paschal full moon can fall on different days in different time zones, which would mean that the date of Easter would be different depending on which time zone you live in.
For calculation purposes, the full moon is always set at the 14th day of the lunar month (the lunar month begins with the new moon). Likewise, the Church sets the date of the vernal equinox at March 21, even though it can occur on March 20. Both approximations allow the Church to set a universal date for Easter.
Of course, all this only applies in areas where the church uses the Gregorian calendar, as in Europe and the Americas for example. The Eastern Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar – meaning that Easter, like Christmas, falls on a different date to the west.
Oh, and just one more fact. The western church date is worked out using full moons as they appear in the northern hemisphere but the dates apply south of the equator too.
So, is that all clear now? No? Don’t feel bad, it’s not to me either.
Wouldn’t it be better to choose a date such as the second Sunday in April? Just an idea.