What is Easter, why is it on a different date every year and is it possible its date would ever be fixed?
EVER wondered why Easter is such a moveable feast?
Even if you’re not religiously inclined, it’s hard to ignore the annual binge-fest involving chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and roast lamb.
But why does it fall on a different date every year, unlike other Christian holidays such as Christmas?
Why is it preceded by Lent? And why do we mark the occasion by eating chocolate eggs?
It won’t surprise you to note that these are just some of the most googled questions around this time of year, yet many of us are still blissfully ignorant about the origins of this holiday.
So here, we eggs-amine the mystery.
WHAT IS EASTER?
IT is the oldest and most important tradition in the Christian world, commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christians believe he was crucified on Good Friday after being betrayed by Judas, and placed in a tomb where he lay for three days before resurrection on the Sunday.
WHY IS IT ON A DIFFERENT DATE EVERY YEAR?
This year, Easter Sunday is April 21, a full three weeks later than Easter was in 2021.
Establishing the date is complicated, because unlike all other holidays which are based on the Gregorian calendar, Lent is based on the Lunar calendar.
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Paschal moon — the first full moon following the Spring equinox.
This is because, according to the Bible, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus happened after the Jewish festival of Passover, which is known as Paschal in Aramaic.
The dates were nailed down in 325AD by the Council of Nicaea.
It declared the Spring equinox would always be marked by the Church on March 21, even though the astronomical equinox can occur anywhere between March 19 and 21.
WHY IS IT PRECEDED BY LENT?
Lent is a period of reflection which recalls the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.
It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday, and many people observe Lent by giving up a particular vice or habit for this length of time.
However, Lent traditionally ended at sunset on Holy Thursday. And here’s the real shocker — it’s actually 44 days long, not 40.
Technically, the tradition of 40 days of penance commemorates the time Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert for 40 days after his baptism.
Yet it wasn’t always marked in this way. In the first century Lent lasted just one day.
Over time, devout Christians sought for it to be increased to 40 days but as fasting and kneeling were forbidden on Sundays, these days didn’t count so they had to add on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Today, the season is still recognised as a 40-day tradition — 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, minus six Sundays.
DOES THIS CAUSE CONFUSION?
Yes. In fact this year is a particular head-scratcher.
In the western hemisphere, the spring equinox occurred on Wednesday, March 20, while the first Full Moon was the next day.
If the Church had recognised these dates, then Easter should have been celebrated on March 24, as this was the first Sunday after the Full Moon.
But as the ecclesiastical date of the March equinox has for centuries been fixed for March 21, they ignored the astronomical dates.
IS IT POSSIBLE THE DATE FOR EASTER WILL BE FIXED?
Yes, in fact Pope Francis has said he’s in favour of it.
Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed Anglican leaders should join discussions with other church leaders to set an agreed date and put an end to 2,000 years of rumpus.
WHY DO WE CELEBRATE EASTER WITH EGGS?
As you might have guessed, Jesus Christ’s contemporaries didn’t have the choice of Lindt or Cadburys.
The tradition of eating eggs — real ones, not chocolate ones — stems back to fasting.
Eating eggs was prohibited by Church leaders during Holy Week so any eggs laid that week were decorated and given to children as gifts.
In Victorian times, the tradition evolved as people began making cardboard eggs which they covered in satin and filled with Easter gifts.
The first chocolate eggs appeared in Europe in the 19th century and quickly became a key part of Easter.
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