Why is Easter on a Different Date Each Year?

What is it with Resurrection Sunday? One year it’s in March, the next in April! Is it true the British parliament tried to force the issue? And was ignored?

Have you ever wondered why Easter Sunday changes each year? We have other holidays that shift annually – Thanksgiving, for example, is always on the fourth Thursday of November. That means it can occur on any date from November 22 to 28.

Mother’s Day also wanders around the calendar, as does Father’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and President’s Day.

However none of them are as unpredictable as Easter.

“At the heart of the matter lies a very simple explanation,” writes Mary Fairchild on the website “The early church fathers wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover.”

After all, the death and burial of Jesus Christ occurred on the day before Passover. Christ’s resurrection happened the day after Passover.

So, the church “wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover,” explains Fairchild.

However, the date for Passover changes every year. “The Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles. Each feast day is movable, with dates shifting from year to year,” notes Fairchild.

So, what could have been simple got immediately complicated.

If the church had stuck to the original plan, Easter would always be celebrated at Passover.

However, the church and the Jewish community have not always gotten along. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, was not exactly a model of religious unity or a celebration of diversity. The bad relations climaxed, one might say, with Hitler’s attempt to wipe Jews off the face of the earth.

However, Jesus was Jewish and taught love and forgiveness. So, the church’s contradiction of loving everybody – except Jews – stems from the New Testament account of Jesus’ trial in Matthew 27:24–25, "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'"

As a result, 2,000 years, Jews were regarded as “Christ killers.” Only in the 1960s was the taint officially lifted by Christianity’s largest group, the Roman Catholics. As a part of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), Pope Paul VI issued a declaration which repudiated collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus.

In other words, today’s Jews cannot be held responsible for Christ’s crucifixion. They weren’t there. They had nothing to do with it. They weren’t born yet.

However, in the third century, resentment was still raw. And the church didn’t like having to ask the Jews each year when Easter should be celebrated.

So, in the year 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea “set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon,” writes Scott P. Richert on the About website.

What is paschal full moon? That’s the first full moon either on or after the spring equinox.

What is the spring equinox? An equinox occurs twice a year, around March 20 and September 22. You’d think that the equinox is the day when daytime and night are of the same length. Sure, the word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). However, the equinox is not exactly the same as the day when period of daytime and night are of equal length.

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Rob Kerby
Related Topics: Easter, Christianity, Holidays, Calendar
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