Why Does The Date For Easter Change?

Shouldn’t Easter be a fixed date on the calendar? Especially if Easter is meant to celebrate the day of Jesus’ resurrection, shouldn’t the date remain the same every year? So why does the date of Easter change every year? In the West, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21st. Which makes Easter a moving target on the calendar. The question then becomes why such a thing as a ‘moveable date’ was (and is) used as a way establish when Easter will be celebrated?

The modern-day calendar, used throughout the Western World today, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in AD 1582 and is called the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar we us today was adapted from and replaced the Julian calendar, which had been in use since the time of Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar accounts for a typical 365-day year. Since an actual year is 365.2425 days long, the Gregorian calendar includes an additional day on leap years (every four years). Easter Graphics Plus, it necessitates that leap year not be observed on years ending in “00” that are not divisible by four hundred. (Thus, while leap year was observed in 2000, it will not be observed in 2100.) The Gregorian calendar is ‘fixed’ and based on the length of a day in a year. One could say the Gregorian calendar follows the sun.

Easter, however, does not follow the Gregorian calendar. Instead, it follows a lunisolar calendar (much like the Hebrew calendar). According to the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, the date varies from year to year.

So, what was the ‘Council of Nicaea’ and why did they choose such a strange way to set the date for Easter? To understand that, we have to back up a moment examine what Easter is and why Christians celebrate it. Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after being put to death by ancient Romans. According to Biblical scripture, Jesus gave a Passover meal for his disciples (The Last Supper) the night Jesus was taken prisoner by Romans. Soon after Jesus was capture, he was put to death. In order to celebrate Easter, or the resurrection of Christ, the date for Easter needs to be close to or after the Passover, which is a Jewish tradition. And, the date for the Passover follows the lunisolar calendar, which is a calendar that follows lunar or the moon’s orbit. That means, the date for Passover is different every year, according to the moon’s cycles, and not the fixed dates on the Gregorian calendar.

In 325 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine formed the first ecumenical council in an effort to attain consensus among Christians throughout Christendom (all the lands under the influence of Christian believers, and even so lands that were not). This became the First Council of Nicaea. One of the first acts of this council was to establish when Easter, or the celebration of the resurrection, was to be held. Using Bible scripture as a guide, the council set the date as on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21st in order to make Easter close to the Jewish Passover, hopefully a few days AFTER the actual Jewish Passover.

Given this new rule on when Easter was to be held, the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22. The last time Easter fell on that date was 1818, and it will not do so again until 2285. Conversely, the latest possible date for Easter is April 25. The last time Easter fell on that date was 1943, and it will not do so again until 2038.

Unfortunately, not ALL Christians decided to go along with this new, established method for determining when Easter was to be held. The Eastern Orthodox Church (with a few exceptions) still adheres to the Julian calendar. The result is that the date of Easter can be different for the Eastern Church than for the Western Church. Plus, while the Resurrection is believed to have taken place during the Jewish Passover, the annual celebration of Passover may fall on yet another weekend.

Over the years there have been some influential Christians and churches who have promoted the idea of establishing a more predictable date for Easter. Some have suggested a specific date (which would mean Easter would fall on a different day of the week) while others have suggested a specific

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Sunday (such as the second Sunday of April). Such ideas have gained some traction, but have not yet led to any serious consideration. Most Christians who understand the history and reasons for connecting Easter to the Passover, which is based on a lunar calendar, prefer to keep Easter as it is.

In case you are wondering ‘What is the real date of Easter?’ according to our modern, Gregorian calendar. Well, on very smart and famous person tried to work out the actual date for the Crucifixion (which would give us a target date for the Resurrection, Easter): It was none other than Sir Isaac Newton. Without getting into the mind bending astrological, mathematical and Biblical scriptural work involved in trying to establish the actual date of Christ’s resurrection, Newton reasoned that the resurrection took place on Friday, April 23rd 34 AD. Add 3 days from the date of the Crucifixion and you arrive at April 26th. (a href=”http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/newton.html” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>Learn More)

Other notable scholars have come up with April 7th and April 3rd as the date of the Crucifixion. With those dates you come up with the possibility of April 10th and April 6th as the actual date for Easter. It is very difficult to set an actual date in our modern calendar for events that transpired over 2,000 years ago based on documents from numerous and often second and third hand sources AND a calendar based on moon cycles that was modified in the 2,000+ years since Jesus walked the earth.

Regardless of when it falls, Easter remains the central holiday for celebration of the Christian faith that has also become a general celebration for the arrival of Spring. Which brings us to the fact the word ‘Easter’ was never in the Bible and never really part of Christianity. But, that is a story for another time. Just be sure to check your calendar in advance for the date Easter will falls on so you don’t miss it!

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