It’s that time of year again. A time of joy, a time of religious reflection, a time of fluffy bunnies, a time of candy and commercialism. Plus, it’s a time of serious confusion as to when Easter is celebrated, exactly. For the last few weeks, people have been wandering into their local grocery stores, seeing chocolate Cadbury “eggs” on display, and asking themselves: “Which of the next few Sundays do I need to free up for family, friends and church?” This introspective query is sometimes made with excitement and other times with dread – depending on one’s level of holiday joy. Either way, it seems to be a very good question. Although Easter Sunday of 2014 falls on April 20th, it is actually celebrated on a different day each year.
Easter Sunday marks the end of the Christian observation of Lent, a 6-week period of penance, reflection and prayer. It also commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, revered as the Son of God in the New Testament. Easter is considered by many to be the holiest of days within the religion. However, it is not a holiday that is set on a fixed date every year. In fact, the celebration of Easter Sunday relies upon the lunar cycle to determine its place within the calendar. It occurs on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. In Western Christianity, for example, Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. Whereas Eastern Christianity follows a slightly different timeline, holding the festivities of Orthodox Easter somewhere between April 4 and May 8. This year, coincidentally, Easter is actually celebrated on the same day by both sects.
Subsequently, due to the lunar cycles of the Gregorian (Western) calendar and Julian (Eastern) calendar, all holidays surrounding Easter – Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, etc. – are all considered “moveable feasts”. Perhaps this is why the dates of so many other holidays face similar confusion. So, whereas last year’s Easter Sunday was widely celebrated in the U.S. on a much different date of March 31, Easter Sunday 2014 will arrive on April 20, practically an entire month later. Now, just who did decide Easter’s fate as it pertains to the lunar calendar?
The First Council of Nicaea, which existed around 325 A.D., in an area that would now be considered part of Turkey, focused on establishing the nature of Jesus Christ and his place within the Christian religion. It was this group of Christian officials that linked the lunar dates of Easter to the same timeframe of the Jewish holiday of Passover (also based on a lunar calendar), believed to have been celebrated around the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The connection may hold further significance as Jesus Christ was not only believed to be Jewish by many scholars, but a rabbi as well.
Although Easter 2014 occurs on April 20, it is sure to fall on a different date each year, as the lunar cycles are not perfectly in line with a standard 365-day calendar. However, fans of those Cadbury “eggs” mentioned above need not worry about a specific release date. They seem to arrive extremely early, no matter what the moon’s position may be.
By Josh Taub