Why Does Easter’s Date Wander?

St. Anne’s Chapel

What shall I wear for Easter?  Will it be cold or warm?  Will we be able to have an outside Easter egg hunt?  Will sunrise services be inside or out?  These are a few of the possible questions one might be pondering at this time each year.  Why is the date for Easter different each year?

As you read further, I hope to help answer these questions.

There are 35 possible dates in the spring when Easter could be celebrated! The reason comes from decisions made several centuries after Christianity began.  The first step to unfolding this mysterious question is to understand a little about the Julian or solar based calendar of the Roman Empire.  For 2,000 years the Jewish calendar had been based on the moon which has twelve cycles of about 29 days each, giving us 354.36 days in a year.  The Julian calendar ( named after Julious Cesar) had three years of 365 days and one 366 days ( thus the reason February has 1 extra day every four years).

To add to the confusion, Jesus’ followers didn’t have an exact date of the Resurrection.  Many of the first believers expected Jesus’ return to be soon so a single, universal date for Easter wasn’t possible.  In the year 325 a special council was brought together ( the Council of Nicea in present day Turkey) and one of the topics of discussion was the date for Easter.  The biggest problem in trying to make a decision was that one group followed the Julian calendar and the other the Jewish calendar.  After much discussion the result was that Easter shall fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox! The spring equinox being one of the two times a year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the length of day and night are approximately equal.  This is why there is a 35 day span when Easter can occur ( March 22-April 25).

Another question pops up- is the actual Christian celebration of Easter derived from a Pagan festival?  After much research it was found that the Anglo-Saxon festival of ‘Eostre’ was celebrated after the Christian Easter/Passover celebration so the present day celebration of Easter was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.

There was also a question of the origin of the word ‘Easter’.  It was said that there was a pagan fertility goddess named ‘Eostre’.  However there is no evidence of the existence of this Anglo-Saxon goddess.

There are many stories related to Easter but the interesting point about Easter is that the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival puts the importance on its content, rather than its title or when it occurs.  It is Christ’s conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone ‘Happy Easter’!

Guest Post by Kathy Lieberg, Volunteer