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Easter Stuff

By Leocthasme

I just know ya'll look forward to all this
Lent and Easter stuff every year, so here is more.
And, I promise in subsequent years from now on ya'll won't
never hear about it again.
(unless somebody asks)
[or comments on my superior intellect]
{or maybe inquisitive minds want to know (more?)}

Easter Commentary

(More Information from various Easter, Lent, and Ash Wednesday Sites)

Recently someone asked why Easter and Passover do not always fall in the same week, or day of the year (an annual anniversary, so to speak). I pulled much of this article from the Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia 1988 Edition. I am including the whole article and other information gleaned from other sources because I personally found them enlightening. The reason for this is not to argue Easter and Passover (for which there is no argument) but only for information purposes. I have found very few people who even knew that the two festivals did not coincide.

Easter:
The annual festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the principal feast of the Christian year. It is celebrated on a Sunday on varying dates between March 22 and April 25 and is therefore called the movable feast. The dates of several other ecclesiastical festivals, extending over a period between Septuagesima Sunday (the ninth Sunday before Easter) and the first Sunday of Advent (the period before Christmas), are fixed in relation to the date of Easter.

Connected with the observance of Easter is the 40-day penitential season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding at midnight of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday; Holy week, commencing on Palm Sunday, including Good Friday, the supposed day of the crucifixion, and terminating with Holy Saturday; and the Octave of Easter, extending from Easter Sunday through the following Sunday. During the Octave of Easter in early Christian times, the newly baptized wore white garments, white being the liturgical color of Easter and signifying light, purity, and joy.

Pre-Christian Tradition:
Easter, a Christian festival, embodies many pre-Christian traditions. The origin of its name probably dates as for back as the Ancient goddess Astarte, the original Chaldean goddess of fertility. Scholars, however, accepting the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar Saint Bede, believe it probably comes from Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, to whom was dedicated a month corresponding to April. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the Vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts. Even this symbolism dates back as far as Astarte and later on the Babylonian celebration of spring and fertility.

Such festivals, and the stories and legends that explain their origin, were common in ancient religions. A Greek legend tells of the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the underworld to the light of day. Her return symbolized to the ancient Greeks the resurrection of life in the spring after the desolation of winter.

Many ancient peoples shared similar legends. The Phrygians believed that their omnipotent deity went to sleep at the time of the winter solstice, and they performed ceremonies with music and dancing at the spring equinox to awaken him. The Christian festival of Easter probably embodies a number of converging traditions; most scholars emphasize the original relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, from which is derived Pasch, another name for Easter. The early Christians, many of whom were of Jewish origin, were brought up in the Hebrew tradition and regarded Easter as a new feature of the Passover festival, a commemoration of the advent of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets.

The Dating of Easter:
According to the New Testament, Christ was crucified on the day before Passover and shortly afterward rose from the dead. In consequence, the Easter festival commemorated Christ's resurrection. In time, a serious difference over the date of the Easter festival arose among Christians. Those of Jewish origin celebrated the resurrection immediately following the Passover festival, which, according to their Babylonian lunar calendar, fell on the evening of the full moon (the 14th day in the month of Nissan, the first month of the year); by their reckoning, Easter, from year to year, fell on different days of the week. Christians of Gentile origin, however, wished to commemorate the resurrection on the first day of the week, Sunday, thus Sunday became the day of the Lord. By their method, Easter occurred on the same day of the week, but from year to year, it fell on different dates. An important historical result of the difference in reckoning the date of Easter was that the Christian Churches in the East, which were closer to the birthplace of the new religion (Jerusalem), and in which old traditions were strong, observed Easter according to the date of the Passover festival. The churches of the West, descendants of Greek-Roman civilization, celebrated Easter on a Sunday.

Rulings of the Council of Nicaea on the Date of Easter:
Constantine I, Roman emperor, called together the Council of Nicaea in 325. The council unanimously ruled that the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox; and that if the full moon should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following. Coincidence of the feast of Easter and Passover was thus avoided. The Council of Nicaea also decided that the calendar date of Easter was to be calculated at Alexandria, then the principal astronomical center of the world. The accurate determination of the date, however, proved an impossible task in view of the limited knowledge of the 4th-century world. The principal astronomical problem involved was the discrepancy, called the epact, between the solar year and the lunar year. The chief problem was a gradually increasing discrepancy between the true astronomical year and the Julian calendar then in use.

Later Dating Methods:
Ways of fixing the date of the feast tried by the church proved unsatisfactory, and Easter was celebrated on different dates in different parts of the world. In 387, for example, the dates of Easter in France and Egypt were 35 days apart. About 465, the church adopted a system of calculation proposed by the astronomer Victorinus (5th century), who had been commissioned by Pope Eilarius (461-468) to reform the calendar and fix the date of Easter. Elements of his method are still in use. Refusal of the British and Celtic Christian churches to adopt the proposed changes led to a bitter dispute between them and Rome in the 7th century.

Reform of the Julian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, eliminated much of the difficulty in fixing the date of Easter and in arranging the ecclesiastical year. Since 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was also adopted in Great Britain, the British Colonies (United States), and Ireland, Easter has been celebrated on the same day in the Western part of the Christian world. The Eastern churches, however, which did not adopt the Gregorian calendar, commemorate Easter on a Sunday either preceding or following the date observed in the West. Occasionally the dates coincide; the most recent times were in 1865 and 1963. Because the Easter holiday affects a varied number of secular affairs in many countries, it has long been urged as a matter of convenience that the movable dates of the festival be either narrowed in range or replaced by a fixed date in the manner of Christmas. In 1923, the problem was referred to the Holy See, which has found no canonical objections to the proposed reform. In 1928, the British Parliament enacted a measure allowing the Church of England to commemorate Easter on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Despite these steps toward reform, Easter continues to be a movable feast.

The Date for the Christian Holiday:
Easter shifts every year within the Civil Calendar. The ecclesiastical rules that determine the date of Easter trace back to 325 CE (Christian Era) at the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, most of Europe used the Julian Calendar (created by Julius Caesar).

To fix incontrovertibly the date for Easter, and to make it determinable indefinitely in advance, the Council constructed special tables to compute the date. The 6th century Abbot of Scythia, Dionysus Exiguous, revised these tables over the next few centuries resulting eventually in the tables constructed. He also is responsible for fixing the Calendar into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domino, the year of the Lord) dates, using 1BC and 1AD as the separator for the years before or after Christ. These tables were used until 1582, when Gregory XIII (Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) completed a reconstruction of the Julian calendar and new tables were produced. Universal adoption of this Gregorian calendar occurred slowly. By the 1700's, though, most of Western Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar. Much of Eastern Europe continued to use the Julian calendar until the early part of the 20th century. The Gregorian calendar is now the internationally accepted civil calendar.

The usual statement, that Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox, is not a precise statement of the actual ecclesiastical rules. This full moon is not the astronomical Full Moon but an ecclesiastical moon that keeps, more or less, in step with the astronomical Moon.

The actual conditions that determine the date for Easter are
    Easter falls on the first Sunday following the paschal full moon;
    The paschal full moon is the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox; and
    The vernal equinox is fixed as March 21. resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.

The civil date of Easter depends upon which calendar, Gregorian or Julian, is used. The western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christian churches use the Gregorian calendar; many eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches use the Julian calendar. In a congress held in 1923, the Orthodox churches adopted a modified Gregorian calendar and decided to set the date of Easter according to the astronomical Full Moon for the meridian of Jerusalem. However, these changes have not been universally implemented, and varieties of practices remain among the Orthodox churches.

There are three major differences between the ecclesiastical system and the astronomical system.
    The times of the ecclesiastical full moons are not necessarily identical to the times of astronomical Full Moons. The ecclesiastical tables did not account for the full complexity of the lunar motion.
    The vernal equinox has a precise astronomical definition determined by the actual motion of the Sun. The apparent longitude of the Sun is zero degrees at the precise time. This precise time shifts within the civil calendar very slightly from year to year. In the ecclesiastical system, the vernal equinox does not shift; it is fixed at March 21 regardless of the actual motion of the Sun.
    The date of Easter is a specific calendar date. Easter starts when that date starts for your local time zone. The vernal equinox occurs at a specific date and time all over the Earth at once.

Inevitably, then, the date of Easter occasionally differs from a date that depends on the astronomical Full Moon and vernal equinox. In some cases, this difference may occur in some parts of the world and not in others because two dates separated by the International Date Line are always simultaneously in progress on the Earth. For example, take the year 1962. In 1962, the astronomical Full Moon occurred on March 21, UT=7h 55m - about six hours after astronomical equinox. The ecclesiastical full moon (taken from the tables), however, occurred on March 20, before the fixed ecclesiastical equinox at March 21. In the astronomical case, the Full Moon followed its equinox; in the ecclesiastical case, it preceded its equinox. Following the rules, Easter, therefore, was not until the Sunday that followed the next ecclesiastical full moon (Wednesday, April 18) making Easter Sunday, April 22.

Similarly, in 1954 the first ecclesiastical full moon after March 21 fell on Saturday, April 17. Thus, Easter was Sunday, April 18. The astronomical equinox also occurred on March 21. The next astronomical Full Moon occurred on April 18 at UT=5h. So in some places in the world Easter was on the same Sunday as the astronomical Full Moon.

NOTE: UT=Universal Time

The following are dates of Easter from 1990 to 2024:

1995 April 16 2010 April 4
1996 April 7 2011 April 24
1997 March 30 2012 April 8
1998 April 12 2013 March 31
1999 April 4 2014 April 20
2000 April 23 2015 April 5
2001 April 15 2016 March 27
2002 March 31 2017 April 16
2003 April 20 2018 April 1
2004 April 11 2019 April 21
2005 March 27 2020 April 12
1990 April 15 2006 April 16 2021 April 4
1991 March 31 2007 April 8 2022 April 17
1992 April 19 2008 March 23 2023 April 9
1994 April 3 2009 April 12 2024 March 31


Now that ya'll have gained so much knowledge about *Lent and Easter in the last couple of years. I think I will devote the next several years to such fun things as Mardi Grau, Saint Patrick's Day, and April Fools Day.

Ya'll take care now ya'heah.


* Information on Lent in February issue.  

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Reader Comments

Name: Mary Ann Email: supermom_57@hotmail.com
Comment: Well, you did it again! More neat and interesting things about Easter!! Looking forward to those other holidays you're gonna research... Thanks for you hard work! Love, Mary Ann

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Name: Melinda Cohenour Email: mecohenour@aol.com
Comment: This is a column I'd like to save. Replete with interesting facts, common-sense guidelines and a wonderful table of dates to post to my calendar. Neato!

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