Resurrected Jesus and Mary Magdalene, early 1900's Bible Card illustration
|Significance||Celebrates the resurrection of Jesus|
|2010 date||April 4 (both Western and Eastern)|
|2011 date||April 24 (both Western and Eastern)|
|Celebrations||Religious (church) services, festive family meals, Easter egg hunts and gift-giving|
|Observances||Prayer, all-night vigil, sunrise service|
|Related to||Passover, of which it is regarded the Christian equivalent; Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Clean Monday, Lent, Great Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which lead up to Easter; and Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi which follow it.|
Easter (Greek: Πάσχα Paskha, from Hebrew: פֶּסַח Pesakh,) is the most important annual religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to Christian scripture, Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Some Christians celebrate this resurrection on Easter Day or Easter Sunday (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday), two days after Good Friday and three days after Maundy Thursday. The chronology of his death and resurrection is variously interpreted to be between AD 26 and AD 36. Easter also refers to the season of the church year called Eastertide or the Easter Season. Traditionally the Easter Season lasted for the forty days from Easter Day until Ascension Day but now officially lasts for the fifty days until Pentecost. The first week of the Easter Season is known as Easter Week or the Octave of Easter. Easter also marks the end of Lent, a season of fasting, prayer, and penance.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21 (regardless of the astronomically correct date), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar whose March 21 corresponds, during the twenty-first century, to April 3 in the Gregorian Calendar, in which calendar their celebration of Easter therefore varies between April 4 and May 8.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover not only for much of its symbolism but also for its position in the calendar. In most European languages the feast called Easter in English is termed by the words for passover in those languages and in the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate passover.
Relatively newer elements such as the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts have become part of the holiday's modern celebrations, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike. There are also some Christian denominations who do not celebrate Easter.
The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life.
Easter is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper and crucifixion that preceded the resurrection. According to the narratives of the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as he prepared himself and his disciples for his death in the upper room during the Last Supper. He identified the loaf of bread and cup of wine as symbolizing his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.
One interpretation of the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple, on the afternoon of Nisan 14. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. It assumes that text literally translated "the preparation of the passover" in John 19:14 refers to Nisan 14 (Preparation Day for the Passover) and not necessarily to Yom Shishi (Friday, Preparation Day for Sabbath) and that the priests' desire to be ritually pure in order to "eat the passover" in John 18:28 refers to eating the Passover lamb, not to the public offerings made during the days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:8).
The modern English term Easter is speculated to have developed from Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre or Eoaster, which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar attested by Bede as named after the goddess Ēostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Bede notes that Eostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honor during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced with the Christian custom of Easter. Using comparative linguistic evidence from continental Germanic sources, the 19th century scholar Jacob Grimm proposed the existence of an equivalent form of Eostre among the pre-Christian beliefs of the continental Germanic peoples, whose name he reconstructed as Ostara.
The implications of the goddess have resulted in scholarly theories about whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede, theories connecting Eostre with records of Germanic folk custom (including hares and eggs), and as descendant of the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn through the etymology of her name. Grimm's reconstructed Ostara has had some influence in modern popular culture. Modern German has Ostern, but otherwise, Germanic languages have generally borrowed the form pascha, see below.
The Greek word Πάσχα and hence the Latin form Pascha is derived from Hebrew Pesach (פֶּסַח) meaning the festival of Passover. In Greek the word Ανασταση, (upstanding, up-rising, resurrection) is used also as an alternative.
Christians speaking Arabic or other Semitic languages generally use names cognate to Pesach. For instance, the second word of the Arabic name of the festival عيد الفصح ʿĪd al-Fiṣḥ has the root F-Ṣ-Ḥ, which given the sound laws applicable to Arabic is cognate to Hebrew P-S-Ḥ, with "Ḥ" realized as /x/ in Modern Hebrew and /ħ/ in Arabic. Arabic also uses the term عيد القيامة ʿĪd al-Qiyāmah, meaning "festival of the resurrection," but this term is less common. In Maltese the word is L-Għid. In Ge'ez and the modern Ethiosemitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, two forms exist: ፋሲካ ("Fasika," fāsīkā) from Greek Pascha, and ትንሣኤ ("Tensae," tinśā'ē), the latter from the Semitic root N-Ś-', meaning "to rise" (cf. Arabic nasha'a - ś merged with "sh" in Arabic and most non-South Semitic languages).
In all Romance languages the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Latin Pascha. In Spanish, Easter is Pascua, in Italian Pasqua, in Portuguese Páscoa and in Romanian Paşti. In French, the name of Easter Pâques also derives from the Latin word but the s following the a has been lost and the two letters have been transformed into a â with a circumflex accent by elision.
In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In Brythonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish Cáisc, Gaelic Càisg and Manx Caisht. These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Cháisc, A' Chàisg and Y Chaisht.
In Dutch, Easter is known as pasen and in the Scandinavian languages Easter is known as påske (Danish and Norwegian), påsk (Swedish), páskar (Icelandic) and páskir (Faeroese). The name is derived directly from Hebrew Pesach. The letter å is a double a pronounced /o/, and an alternate spelling is paaske or paask.
In most Slavic languages, the name for Easter either means "Great Day" or "Great Night". For example, Wielkanoc, Veľká noc and Velikonoce mean "Great Night" or "Great Nights" in Polish, Slovak and Czech, respectively. Велигден (Veligden), Великдень (Velykden), Великден (Velikden), and Вялікдзень (Vyalikdzyen') mean "The Great Day" in Macedonian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Belarusian, respectively.
In Croatian, however, the day's name reflects a particular theological connection: it is called Uskrs, meaning "Resurrection". It is also called Vazam (Vzem or Vuzem in Old Croatian), which is a noun that originated from the Old Church Slavonic verb vzeti (now uzeti in Croatian, meaning "to take"). In Serbian Easter is called Vaskrs, a liturgical form inherited from the Serbian recension of Church Slavonic. The archaic term Velja noć (velmi: Old Slavic for "great"; noć: "night") was used in Croatian while the term Velikden ("Great Day") was used in Serbian. It is believed that Cyril and Methodius, the "holy brothers" who baptized the Slavic people and translated Christian books from Greek into Old Church Slavonic, invented the word Uskrs from the Croatian word krsnuti which means "to enliven". It should be noted that in these languages the prefix Velik (Great) is used in the names of the Holy Week and the three feast days preceding Easter.
In Finnish the name for Easter pääsiäinen, traces back to the verb pääse- meaning to be released, as does the Sámi word Beassážat. The Estonian name lihavõtted and the Hungarian húsvét, however, literally mean the taking of the meat, relating to the end of the Great Lent fasting period.
The first Christians, Jewish and Gentile, were certainly aware of the Hebrew calendar (Acts 2:1; 12:3; 20:6; 27:9; 1 Cor 16:8), but there is no direct evidence that they celebrated any specifically Christian annual festivals. The observance by Christians of non-Jewish annual festivals is believed by some to be an innovation postdating the Apostolic Age. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of its custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. However, when read in context, this is not a rejection or denigration of the celebration—which, given its currency in Scholasticus' time would be surprising—but is merely part of a defense of the diverse methods for computing its date. Indeed, although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.
Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of annual Christian festival, the commemoration of martyrs, begins to appear at about the same time as evidence for the celebration of Easter. But while martyrs' "birthdays" were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar. This is consistent with the celebration of Easter having entered Christianity during its earliest, Jewish period, but does not leave the question free of doubt.
By the later second century, it was accepted that the celebration of Pascha (Easter) was a practice of the disciples and an undisputed tradition. The Quartodeciman controversy, the first of several Paschal/Easter controversies, then arose concerning the date on which Pascha should be celebrated.
The term "Quartodeciman" refers to the practice of celebrating Pascha or Easter on Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar, "the LORD's passover" (Leviticus 23:5). According to the church historian Eusebius, the Quartodeciman Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna, by tradition a disciple of John the Evangelist) debated the question with Anicetus (bishop of Rome). The Roman province of Asia was Quartodeciman, while the Roman and Alexandrian churches continued the fast until the Sunday following, wishing to associate Easter with Sunday. Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus persuaded the other, but they did not consider the matter schismatic either, parting in peace and leaving the question unsettled.
Controversy arose when Victor, bishop of Rome a generation after Anicetus, attempted to excommunicate Polycrates of Ephesus and all other bishops of Asia for their Quartodecimanism. According to Eusebius, a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, which he regarded as all ruling in support of Easter on Sunday. Polycrates (c. 190), however wrote to Victor defending the antiquity of Asian Quartodecimanism. Victor's attempted excommunication was apparently rescinded and the two sides reconciled upon the intervention of bishop Irenaeus and others, who reminded Victor of the tolerant precedent of Anicetus.
Quartodecimanism seems to have lingered into the fourth century, when Socrates of Constantinople recorded that some Quartodecimans were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom and that some were harassed by Nestorius.
It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice continued. But both those who followed the Nisan 14 custom, and those who set Easter to the following Sunday (the Sunday of Unleavened Bread) had in common the custom of consulting their Jewish neighbors to learn when the month of Nisan would fall, and setting their festival accordingly. By the later 3rd century, however, some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with the custom of relying on the Jewish community to determine the date of Easter. The chief complaint was that the Jewish communities sometimes erred in setting Passover to fall before the northern hemisphere spring equinox. Anatolius of Laodicea in the later third century wrote:
Those who place [the first lunar month of the year] in [the twelfth zodiacal sign before the spring equinox] and fix the Paschal fourteenth day accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake
Peter, bishop of Alexandria (died 312), had a similar complaint
On the fourteenth day of [the month], being accurately observed after the equinox, the ancients celebrated the Passover, according to the divine command. Whereas the men of the present day now celebrate it before the equinox, and that altogether through negligence and error.
The Sardica paschal table confirms these complaints, for it indicates that the Jews of some eastern Mediterranean city (possibly Antioch) fixed Nisan 14 on March 11 (Julian) in A.D. 328, on March 5 in A.D. 334, on March 2 in A.D. 337, and on March 10 in A.D. 339, all well before the spring equinox.
Because of this dissatisfaction with reliance on the Jewish calendar, some Christians began to experiment with independent computations. Others, however, felt that the customary practice of consulting Jews should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error. A version of the Apostolic Constitutions used by the sect of the Audiani advised:
Two other objections that some Christians may have had to maintaining the custom of consulting the Jewish community in order to determine Easter are implied in Constantine's letter from the Council of Nicea to the absent bishops:
It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews...For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages by a truer order...For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things....Being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Passover twice in the same year.
The reference to Passover twice in the same year might refer to the geographical diversity that existed at that time in the Jewish calendar, due in large measure to the breakdown of communications in the Empire. Jews in one city might determine Passover differently from Jews in another city. The reference to the Jewish "boast", and, indeed, the strident anti-Jewish tone of the whole passage, suggests another issue: some Christians thought that it was undignified for Christians to depend on Jews to set the date of a Christian festival.
This controversy between those who advocated independent computations, and those who wished to continue the custom of relying on the Jewish calendar, was formally resolved by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (see below), which endorsed the move to independent computations, effectively requiring the abandonment of the old custom of consulting the Jewish community in those places where it was still used. That the older custom (called "protopaschite" by historians) did not at once die out, but persisted for a time, is indicated by the existence of canons and sermons against it.
Some historians have argued that mid-4th century Roman authorities, in an attempt to enforce the Nicene decision on Easter, attempted to interfere with the Jewish calendar. This theory was developed by S. Liebermann, and is repeated by S. Safrai in the Ben-Sasson History of the Jewish People. This view receives no support, however, in surviving mid-4th century Roman legislation on Jewish matters. The Historian Procopius, in his Secret History, claims that the emperor Justinian attempted to interfere with the Jewish calendar in the 6th century, and a modern writer has suggested that this measure may have been directed against the protopaschites. However, none of Justinian's surviving edicts dealing with Jewish matters is explicitly directed against the Jewish calendar, making the interpretation of Procopius's statement a complex matter.
|1982||April 11||April 18|
|1983||April 3||May 8|
|1985||April 7||April 14|
|1986||March 30||May 4|
|1988||April 3||April 10|
|1989||March 26||April 30|
|1991||March 31||April 7|
|1992||April 19||April 26|
|1993||April 11||April 18|
|1994||April 3||May 1|
|1995||April 16||April 23|
|1996||April 7||April 14|
|1997||March 30||April 27|
|1998||April 12||April 19|
|1999||April 4||April 11|
|2000||April 23||April 30|
|2002||March 31||May 5|
|2003||April 20||April 27|
|2005||March 27||May 1|
|2006||April 16||April 23|
|2008||March 23||April 27|
|2009||April 12||April 19|
|2012||April 8||April 15|
|2013||March 31||May 5|
|2015||April 5||April 12|
|2016||March 27||May 1|
|2018||April 1||April 8|
|2019||April 21||April 28|
|2020||April 12||April 19|
|2021||April 4||May 2|
|2022||April 17||April 24|
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar.
In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, inclusively. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions. In Eastern Orthodox Churches — which continue to use the Julian calendar for religious dating — Easter also falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, inclusive, of the Julian calendar. (The Julian calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar of the countries where Eastern Christian traditions predominate.) In terms of the Gregorian calendar, due to the 13 day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, these dates are between April 4 and May 8, inclusive. Among the Oriental Orthodox some churches have changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Easter as for other fixed and moveable feasts is the same as in the Western Church.
The precise date of Easter has at times been a matter for contention. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that all Christian churches would celebrate Easter on the same day, which would be computed independently of any Jewish calculations to determine the date of Passover. It is however probable (though no contemporary account of the Council's decisions has survived) that no method of determining the date was specified by the Council. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in the mid-4th century: :...the emperor...convened a council of 318 bishops...in the city of Nicea...They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people....
In the years following the council, the computational system that was worked out by the church of Alexandria came to be normative. It took a while for the Alexandrian rules to be adopted throughout Christian Europe, however. The Church of Rome continued to use an 84-year lunisolar calendar cycle from the late third century until 457. The Church of Rome continued to use its own methods until the 6th century, when it may have adopted the Alexandrian method as converted into the Julian calendar by Dionysius Exiguus (certain proof of this does not exist until the ninth century). Early Christians in Britain and Ireland also used a late third century Roman 84-year cycle. This was replaced by the Alexandrian method in the course of the 7th and 8th centuries. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. However, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Catholic Church in 1582 and the continuing use of the Julian calendar by Eastern Orthodox and most Oriental Orthodox Churches, the date on which Easter is celebrated again deviated, and the divergence continues to this day.
The rule has since the 4th century been phrased as Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. However, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. One reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but the 14th day of a calendar lunar month. Another difference is that the astronomical vernal equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, which can fall on March 19, 20, or 21, while the ecclesiastical date is fixed by convention on March 21.
In applying the ecclesiastical rules, Christian Churches use March 21 as the starting point in determining the date of Easter, from which they find the next full moon, etc. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches continue to use the Julian calendar. Their starting point in determining the date of Orthodox Easter is also March 21, but according to the Julian reckoning, which corresponds to April 3 in the Gregorian calendar. In addition, the lunar tables of the Julian calendar are 4 days (sometimes 5 days) behind those of the Gregorian calendar. The 14th day of the lunar month according to the Gregorian system is only the 9th or 10th day according to the Julian. The result of this combination of solar and lunar discrepancies is divergence in the date of Easter in most years. (see table)
The actual calculations for the date of Easter are somewhat complicated, but can be described briefly as follows:
Easter is determined on the basis of lunisolar cycles. The lunar year consists of 30-day and 29-day lunar months, generally alternating, with an embolismic month added periodically to bring the lunar cycle into line with the solar cycle. In each solar year (January 1 to December 31), the lunar month beginning with an ecclesiastical new moon falling in the 29-day period from March 8 to April 5 inclusive is designated as the Paschal lunar month for that year. Easter is the 3rd Sunday in the Paschal lunar month, or, in other words, the Sunday after the Paschal lunar month's 14th day. The 14th of the Paschal lunar month is designated by convention as the Paschal full moon, although the 14th of the lunar month may differ from the date of the astronomical full moon by up to two days. Since the ecclesiastical new moon falls on a date from March 8 to April 5 inclusive, the Paschal full moon (the 14th of that lunar month) must fall on a date from March 21 to April 18 inclusive.
Accordingly, Gregorian Easter can fall on 35 possible dates - between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. It last fell on March 22 in 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It fell on March 23 in 2008, but will not do so again until 2160. Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it will fall on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date, in 2011. The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times or 3.9%, compared to the median for all dates of 189,525 times or 3.3%.
The Gregorian calculation of Easter was based on a method devised by the Calabrian doctor Aloysius Lilius (or Lilio) for adjusting the epacts of the moon , and has been adopted by almost all Western Christians and by Western countries who celebrate national holidays at Easter. For the British Empire and colonies, a determination of the date of Easter Sunday using Golden Numbers and Sunday letters was defined by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 with its Annexe. This was designed to exactly match the Gregorian calculation.
In determining the date of the Gregorian and Julian Easter a lunisolar cycle is followed. In determining the date of the Jewish Passover a lunisolar calendar is also used, and because Easter always falls on a Sunday it usually falls up to a week after the first day of Passover (Nisan 15 in the Hebrew calendar). However, the differences in the rules between the Hebrew and Gregorian cycles results in Passover falling about a month after Easter in three years of the 19-year cycle. These occur in years 3, 11, and 14 of the Gregorian 19-year cycle (corresponding respectively to years 19, 8, and 11 of the Jewish 19-year cycle).
The reason for the difference is the different scheduling of embolismic months in the two cycles (see computus). In addition, without changes to either calendar, the frequency of monthly divergence between the two festivals will increase over time as a result of the differences in the implicit solar years: the implicit mean solar year of the Hebrew calendar is 365.2468 days while that of the Gregorian calendar is 365.2425 days. In years 2200-2299, for example, the start of Passover will be about a month later than Gregorian Easter in four years out of nineteen.
Since in the modern Hebrew calendar Nisan 15 can never fall on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, the seder of Nisan 15 never falls on the night of Maundy Thursday. The second seder, observed in some Jewish communities on the second night of Passover can, however, occur on Thursday night.
Because the Julian calendar's implicit solar year has drifted further over the centuries than the those of the Gregorian or Hebrew calendars, Julian Easter is a lunation later than Gregorian Easter in five years out of nineteen, namely years 3, 8,11, 14, and 19 of the Christian cycle. This means that it is a lunation later than Jewish Passover in two years out of nineteen, years 8 and 19 of the Christian cycle. Furthermore, because the Julian calendar's lunar age is now about 4 to 5 days behind the mean lunations, Julian Easter always follows the start of Passover. This cumulative effect of the errors in the Julian calendar's solar year and lunar age has led to the often-repeated, but false, belief that the Julian cycle includes an explicit rule requiring Easter always to follow Jewish Passover.
A Pan-Orthodox congress of Eastern Orthodox bishops met in Istanbul in 1923 under the presidency of Patriarch Meletios IV, where the bishops agreed to the Revised Julian calendar. The original form of this calendar would have determined Easter using precise astronomical calculations based on the meridian of Jerusalem. However, all the Eastern Orthodox countries that subsequently adopted the Revised Julian calendar adopted only that part of the revised calendar that applied to festivals falling on fixed dates in the Julian calendar. The revised Easter computation that had been part of the original 1923 agreement was never permanently implemented in any Orthodox diocese.
At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced the present divergent practices of calculating Easter with modern scientific knowledge taking into account actual astronomical instances of the spring equinox and full moon based on the meridian of Jerusalem, while also following the Council of Nicea position of Easter being on the Sunday following the full moon. The WCC presented comparative data of the relationships:
(Sunday after full moon)
|2001||April 8||April 15||April 15||April 15||April 8|
|2002||March 28||March 31||March 31||May 5||March 28|
|2003||April 16||April 20||April 20||April 27||April 17|
|2004||April 5||April 11||April 11||April 11||April 6|
|2005||March 25||March 27||March 27||May 1||April 24|
|2006||April 13||April 16||April 16||April 23||April 13|
|2007||April 2||April 8||April 8||April 8||April 3|
|2008||March 21||March 23||March 23||April 27||April 20|
|2009||April 9||April 12||April 12||April 19||April 9|
|2010||March 30||April 4||April 4||April 4||March 30|
|2011||April 18||April 24||April 24||April 24||April 19|
|2012||April 6||April 8||April 8||April 15||April 7|
|2013||March 27||March 31||March 31||May 5||March 26|
|2014||April 15||April 20||April 20||April 20||April 15|
|2015||April 4||April 5||April 5||April 12||April 4|
|2016||March 23||March 27||March 27||May 1||April 23|
|2017||April 11||April 16||April 16||April 16||April 11|
|2018||March 31||April 1||April 1||April 8||March 31|
|2019||March 21||March 24||April 21||April 28||April 20|
|2020||April 8||April 12||April 12||April 19||April 9|
Notes: 1. Astronomical Easter is the first Sunday after the Astronomical full moon.
2. Passover commences at sunset preceding the date indicated.
The recommended WCC changes would have side-stepped the calendar issues and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body.
A few clergymen of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter. Their proposals include always observing Easter on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7. These suggestions have not attracted significant support, and their adoption in the future is considered unlikely.
In the United Kingdom, the Easter Act 1928 set out legislation to allow the date of Easter to be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April (or, in other words, the Sunday in the period from April 9 to April 15). However, the legislation has not been implemented, although it remains on the Statute book and could be implemented subject to approval by the various Christian churches.
The week before Easter, known as Holy Week, is very special in the Christian tradition. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called "Easter Monday." The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with "Easter", e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Many churches begin celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil.
In Eastern Christianity, the spiritual preparation for Pascha begins with Great Lent, which starts on Clean Monday and lasts for 40 continuous days (including Sundays). The last week of Great Lent (following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent) is called Palm Week, and ends with Lazarus Saturday. The Vespers which begins Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues through the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Pascha itself, and the fast is broken immediately after the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
The Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion and is timed so that it ends a little before midnight on Holy Saturday night. At the stroke of midnight the Paschal celebration itself begins, consisting of Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours, and Paschal Divine Liturgy. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.
The liturgical season from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints (the Sunday after Pentecost) is known as the Pentecostarion (the "fifty days"). The week which begins on Easter Sunday is called Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. The Afterfeast of Pascha lasts 39 days, with its Apodosis (leave-taking) on the day before Ascension. Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day from Pascha (counted inclusively).
Although the Pentecostarion ends on the Sunday of All Saints, Pascha's influence continues throughout the following year, determining the daily Epistle and Gospel readings at the Divine Liturgy, the Tone of the Week, and the Matins Gospels all the way through to the next year's Lazarus Saturday.
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The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics and some Lutherans and Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection. At this time, the lights are brought up and the church bells are rung, according to local custom. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the ideal time for converts to receive baptism, and this practice continues within Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Communion. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is also celebrated at the Vigil.
The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (known in some traditions as Holy Communion). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly Protestant churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church cemetery, yard, or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God's Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world. The most famous "Moravian Sunrise Service" is in the Moravian Settlement Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The beautiful setting of the Graveyard, God's Acre, the music of the Brass Choir numbering 500 pieces, and the simplicity of the service attract thousands of visitors each year and has earned for Winston-Salem the soubriquet "the Easter City."
Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Typically these services follow the usual order of Sunday services in a congregation, but also typically incorporate more highly festive elements. The music of the service, in particular, often displays a highly festive tone; the incorporation of brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) to supplement a congregation's usual instrumentation is common. Often a congregation's worship space is decorated with special banners and flowers (such as Easter lilies).
In predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the morning of Easter (known in the national language as "Pasko ng Muling Pagkabuhay" or the Pasch of the Resurrection) is marked with joyous celebration, the first being the dawn "Salubong," wherein large statues of Jesus and Mary are brought together to meet, imagining the first reunion of Jesus and his mother Mary after Jesus' Resurrection. This is followed by the joyous Easter Mass.
In Polish culture, The Rezurekcja (Resurrection Procession) is the joyous Easter morning Mass at daybreak when church bells ring out and explosions resound to commemorate Christ rising from the dead. Before the Mass begins at dawn, a festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy encircles the church. As church bells ring out, handbells are vigorously shaken by altar boys, the air is filled with incense and the faithful raise their voices heavenward in a triumphant rendering of age-old Easter hymns. After the Blessed Sacrament is carried around the church and Adoration is complete, the Easter Mass begins. Another Polish Easter tradition is Święconka, the blessing of Easter baskets by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. This custom is celebrated not only in Poland, but also in the United States by Polish-Americans.
- This is the Expected and Holy Day,
- the One among the Sabbaths,
- the Sovereign and Lady of days,
- Feast of feasts, Celebration of celebrations,
- on which we praise Christ for all eternity!
Every other religious festival on their calendars, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is reflected in rich Paschal customs in the cultures of countries that have traditionally had an Orthodox Christian majority. Eastern Catholics have similar emphasis in their calendars, and many of their liturgical customs are very similar. This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to, and illuminated by, the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfilment and fruition. They shine only in the light of the Resurrection. Pascha (Easter) is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ's ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. This is succinctly summarized by the Paschal troparion, sung repeatedly during Pascha until the Apodosis of Pascha, which is the day before Ascension:
- Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
- θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
- καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
- ζωὴν χαρισάμενος.
- Christ is risen from the dead,
- Trampling down death by death,
- And upon those in the tombs
- Bestowing life!
Preparation for Pascha begins with the season of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Orthodox Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday, the most austere day of the year. Traditionally, on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday, the Midnight Office is celebrated shortly after 11:00 p.m. (see Paschal Vigil). At its completion all light in the church building is extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the stroke of midnight. Then, a new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the perpetual lamp kept burning there, and he then lights candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation (this practice has its origin in the reception of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). Then the priest and congregation go in a Crucession (procession with the cross) around the temple (church building), holding lit candles, chanting:
By Thy Resurrection O Christ our savior, the angels in Heaven sing, enable us who are on Earth, to glorify thee in purity of heart.
This procession reenacts the journey of the Myrrhbearers to the Tomb of Jesus "very early in the morning" (Luke 24:1). After circling around the temple once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors. In the Greek practice the priest reads a selection from the Gospel Book (Mark 16:1-8). Then, in all traditions, the priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer in front of the closed doors (which represent the sealed tomb). He and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the temple and Paschal Matins begins immediately, followed by the Paschal Hours and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy. The high point of the liturgy is the delivery of Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, for which the congregation stands.
After the dismissal of the Liturgy, the priest may bless Paschal eggs and baskets brought by the faithful containing those foods which have been forbidden during the Great Fast. Immediately after the Liturgy it is customary for the congregation to share a meal, essentially an Agápē dinner (albeit at 2:00 a.m. or later). In Greece the traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.
The next morning, Easter Sunday proper, there is no Divine Liturgy, since the Liturgy for that day has already been celebrated. Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to celebrate "Agápē Vespers". In this service, it has become customary during the last few centuries for the priest and members of the congregation to read a portion of the Gospel of John 20:19-25 (in some places the reading is extended to include verses 19:26-31) in as many languages as they can manage, to show the universality of the Resurrection.
For the remainder of the week, known as "Bright Week", all fasting is prohibited, and the customary Paschal greeting is: "Christ is risen!," to which the response is: "Truly He is risen!" This may also be done in many different languages. The services during Bright Week are nearly identical to those on Pascha itself, except that the do not take place at midnight, but at their normal times during the day. The Crucession during Bright Week takes place either after Paschal Matins or the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
As with many other Christian dates, the celebration of Easter extends beyond the church. Since its origins, it has been a time of celebration and feasting and many Traditional Easter games and customs developed, such as Egg rolling, Egg tapping, Pace egging and Egg decorating. Today Easter is commercially important, seeing wide sales of greeting cards and confectionery such as chocolate Easter eggs, marshmallow bunnies, Peeps, and jelly beans. Even many non-Christians celebrate these aspects of the holiday while eschewing the religious aspects.
Throughout the English-speaking world, many Easter traditions are similar with only minor differences. For example, Saturday is traditionally spent decorating Easter eggs and hunting for them with children on Sunday morning, by which time they have been mysteriously hidden all over the house and garden.
Other traditions involve parents telling their children that eggs and other treats such as chocolate eggs or rabbits and marshmallow chicks (Peeps) have been delivered by the Easter Bunny in an Easter basket which children find waiting for them when they wake up. Many families observe the religious aspects of Easter by attending Sunday Mass or services in the morning and then participating in a feast or party in the afternoon. Some families have a traditional Sunday roast, often of either roast lamb or ham. Easter breads such as Simnel cake, a fruit cake with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles, or nut breads such as potica are traditionally served. Hot cross buns, spiced buns with a cross on top, are traditionally associated with Good Friday, but today are often eaten well before and after.
In Scotland, the north of England, and Northern Ireland, the traditions of rolling decorated eggs down steep hills and pace egging are still adhered to. In Louisiana, USA, egg tapping is known as egg knocking. Marksville, Louisiana claims to host the oldest egg-knocking competition in the US, dating back to the 1950s. Competitors pair up on the steps of the courthouse on Easter Sunday and knock the tips of two eggs together. If the shell of your egg cracks you have to forfeit it, a process that continues until just one egg remains.
In the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, the most notable feature of the Easter celebration is the flying of kites to symbolize Christ's ascent. Traditional Bermuda kites are constructed by Bermudians of all ages as Easter approaches, and are normally only flown at Easter. In addition to hot cross buns and Easter eggs, fish cakes are traditionally eaten in Bermuda at this time.
Church bells are silent as a sign of mourning for one or more days before Easter in The Netherlands, Belgium and France. This has led to an Easter tradition that says the bells fly out of their steeples to go to Rome (explaining their silence), and return on Easter morning bringing both colored eggs and hollow chocolate shaped like eggs or rabbits.
In both The Netherlands and Flemish-speaking Belgium many of more modern traditions exist alongside the Easter Bell story. The bells ("de Paasklokken") leave for Rome on Holy Saturday, called "Stille Zaterdag" (literally "Silent Saturday") in Dutch.
In French-speaking Belgium and France the same story of Easter Bells (« les cloches de Pâques ») bringing eggs from Rome is told, but church bells are silent beginning Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Paschal Triduum.
In Norway, in addition to staying at mountain cabins and cross-country skiing in the mountains and painting eggs, a contemporary tradition is to read or watch murder mysteries at Easter. All the major television channels run crime and detective stories (such as Agatha Christie's Poirot), magazines print stories where the readers can try to figure out "Whodunnit", and new detective novels are scheduled for publishing before Easter. Even the milk cartons are altered for a couple of weeks. Each Easter a new short mystery story is printed on their sides. Stores and businesses close for five straight days at Easter, with the exception of grocery stores, which re-open for a single day on the Saturday before Easter Sunday.
In Finland, Sweden and Denmark, traditions include egg painting and small children dressed as witches collecting candy door-to-door, in exchange for decorated pussy willows. This is a result of the mixing of an old Orthodox tradition (blessing houses with willow branches) and the Scandinavian Easter witch tradition. Brightly coloured feathers and little decorations are also attached to birch branches in a vase. For lunch/dinner on Holy Saturday, families traditionally feast on a smörgåsbord of herring, salmon, potatoes, eggs and other kinds of food. In Finland, the Lutheran majority enjoys mämmi as another traditional Easter treat, while the Orthodox minority's traditions include eating pasha (also spelled paskha) instead.
In the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands (Twente and Achterhoek), Easter Fires (in Dutch: "Paasvuur") are lit on Easter Day at sunset. Easter Fires also take place on the same day in large portions of Northern Germany ("Osterfeuer").
Many central and eastern European ethnic groups, including the Ukrainians, Belarusians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Croats, Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles, Romanians, Serbs, Macedonians, Slovaks, and Slovenes decorate eggs for Easter.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking or whipping is carried out on Easter Monday. In the morning, men spank women with a special handmade whip called a pomlázka (in Czech) or korbáč (in Slovak), or, in eastern Moravia and Slovakia, throw cold water on them. The pomlázka/korbáč consists of eight, twelve or even twenty-four withies (willow rods), is usually from half a meter to two meters long and decorated with coloured ribbons at the end. The spanking is not painful or intended to cause suffering. A legend says that women should be spanked in order to keep their health and beauty during whole next year.
An additional purpose can be for men to exhibit their attraction to women; unvisited women can even feel offended. Traditionally, the spanked woman gives a coloured egg and sometimes a small amount of money to the man as a sign of her thanks. In some regions the women can get revenge in the afternoon or the following day when they can pour a bucket of cold water on any man. The habit slightly varies across Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A similar tradition existed in Poland (where it is called Dyngus Day), but it is now little more than an all-day water fight.
In Croatia and Slovenia a basket of food is prepared and covered with a handmade cloth, and brought to the church to be blessed. A typical Easter basket includes ham, horseradish, bread, colored eggs, and a type of nut cake called "potica".
The butter lamb (Baranek wielkanocny) is a traditional addition to the Easter Meal for many Polish Catholics. Butter is shaped into a lamb either by hand or in a lamb-shaped mould.
In Hungary, Transylvania, Southern Slovakia, Kárpátalja, Northern Serbia - Vojvodina and other territories with Hungarian-speaking communities, the day following Easter is called Locsoló Hétfő, "Watering Monday". Water, perfume or perfumed water is often sprinkled in exchange for an Easter egg.
Along with Christmas celebrations, Easter traditions were among the first casualties of some areas of the Protestant Reformation, being deemed "pagan" by some Reformation leaders.
Other Reformation Churches, such as the Lutheran, Methodist, and Anglican, retained a very full observance of the Church Year. In Lutheran Churches, not only were the days of Holy Week observed, but also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost were observed with three day festivals, including the day itself and the two following. Among the other Reformation traditions, things were a bit different. These holidays were eventually restored (though Christmas only became a legal holiday in Scotland in 1967, after the Church of Scotland finally relaxed its objections). Some Christians (usually, but not always fundamentalists), however, continue to reject the celebration of Easter (and, often, of Christmas), because they believe them to be irrevocably tainted with paganism and idolatry. Their rejection of these traditions is based partly on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. Additionally, some Christians who do celebrate the event prefer to call it "Resurrection Sunday" or "Resurrection Day", as a way of distinguishing the religious celebration from more secular or commercial aspects of the holiday such as the Easter Bunny.
This is also the view of Jehovah's Witnesses, who instead observe a yearly commemorative service of the Last Supper and subsequent death of Christ on the evening of Nisan 14, as they calculate it derived from the lunar Hebrew Calendar. It is commonly referred to, in short, by many Witnesses as simply "The Memorial". Jehovah's Witnesses believe that such verses as Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Cor 11:26 constitute a commandment to remember the death of Christ (and not the resurrection, as only the remembrance of the death was observed by early Christians), and they do so on a yearly basis just as Passover is celebrated yearly by the Jews.
Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) traditionally do not celebrate or observe Easter (or any other Church holidays), believing instead that "every day is the Lord's day", and that elevation of one day above others suggests that it is acceptable to do un-Christian acts on other days—they believe that every day is holy, and should be lived as such. This belief of Quakers is known as their testimony against time and season.
Some groups feel that Easter is something to be regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates—the miracle of Christ's resurrection. In this spirit, these Christians teach that each day and all Sabbaths should be kept holy, in Christ's teachings. Hebrew-Christian, Sacred Name, and Armstrong movement churches (such as the Living Church of God) usually reject Easter in favor of Nisan 14 observance and celebration of the Christian Passover. This is especially true of Christian groups that celebrate the New Moons or annual High Sabbaths in addition to seventh-day Sabbath. This is textually supported by the letter to the Colossians: "Let no one...pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ." (Col. 2:16-17, NAB)
Critics charge that such feasts are meaningless in light of the end of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70. Televangelist Larry Huch (Pentecostal) and many Calvary Chapel churches have adopted Hebrew-Christian practices, but without rejecting Easter.
Other seventh-day Sabbatarian groups, such as any Sabbatarian Church of God, celebrate a Christian Passover that lacks most of the practices or symbols associated with Western Easter and retains more of the presumed features of the Passover observed by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.
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EASTER, the annual festival observed throughout Christendom in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The name Easter (Ger. Ostern), like the names of the days of the week, is a survival from the old Teutonic mythology. According to Bede (De Temp. Rat. c. xv.) it is derived from Eostre, or Ostdra, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated. This month, Bede says, was the same as the mensis paschalis, " when the old festival was observed with the gladness of a new solemnity." The name of the festival in other languages (as Fr. pdques; Ital. pasqua; Span. pascha; Dan. paaske; Dutch paasch; Welsh pasg) is derived from the Lat. pascha and the Gr. 7r&o-Xa. These in turn come from the Chaldee or Aramaean form x7t? pascha', of the Hebrew name of the Passover festival n4 pesach, from r "he passed over," in memory of the great deliverance, when the destroying angel "passed over the houses, of the children of Israel in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians" (Exod. xii. 27).
An erroneous derivation of the word pascha from the Greek ircthx iv, " to suffer," thus connected with the sufferings or passion of the Lord, is given by some of the Fathers of the Church, as Irenaeus, Tertullian and others, who were ignorant of Hebrew.
There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians. "The whole of time is a festival unto Christians because of the excellency of the good things which have been given" is the comment of St Chrysostom on 1 Cor. v. 7, which has been erroneously supposed to refer to an apostolic observance of Easter. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl. v. 22) states, with perfect truth, that neither the Lord nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. He says: "The apostles had no thought of appointing festival days, but of promoting a life of blamelessness and piety"; and he attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of an old usage, "just as many other customs have been established." This is doubtless the true statement of the case. The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb and the first fruits from the dead, continued to be observed, and became the Christian Easter.
Although the observance of Easter was at a very early period the practice of the Christian church, a serious difference as to the day for its observance soon arose between the Christians of Jewish and those of Gentile descent, which led to a long and bitter controversy. The point at issue was when the Paschal fast was to be reckoned as ending. With the Jewish Christians, whose leading thought was the death of Christ as the Paschal Lamb, the fast ended at the same time as that of the Jews, on the fourteenth day of the moon at evening, and the Easter festival immediately followed, without regard to the day of the week. The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, unfettered by Jewish traditions, identified the first day of the week with the Resurrection, and kept the preceding Friday as the commemoration of the crucifixion, irrespective of the day of the month. With the one the observance of the day of the month, with the other the observance of the day of the week, was the guiding principle.
Generally speaking, the Western churches kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the Eastern churches followed the Jewish rule, and kept Easter on the fourteenth day. St Polycarp, the disciple of St John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see, on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle, of observing the fourteenth day. Anicetus, however, declined to admit the Jewish custom in the churches under his jurisdiction, but readily communicated with Polycarp and those who followed it. About forty years later (197) the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bisho p of Rome, and Polycrates, metropolitan of proconsular Asia. That province was the only portion of Christendom which still adhered to the Jewish usage, and Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome. This Polycrates firmly refused to agree to, and urged many weighty reasons to the contrary, whereupon Victor proceeded to excommunicate Polycrates and the Christians who continued the Eastern usage. He was, however, restrained from actually proceeding to enforce the decree of excommunication, owing to the remonstrance of Irenaeus and the bishops of Gaul. Peace was thus maintained, and the Asiatic churches retained their usage unmolested (Euseb. H.E. v. 23-25). We find the Jewish usage from time to time reasserting itself after this, but it never prevailed to any large extent.
A final settlement of the dispute was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council of Nicaea in 325. At that time the Syrians and Antiochenes were the solitary champions of the observance of the fourteenth day. The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and "that none should hereafter follow the blindness of the Jews" (Socrates, H.E. i. 9). The correct date of the Easter festival was to be calculated at Alexandria, the home of astronomical science, and the bishop of that see was to announce it yearly to the churches under his jurisdiction, and also to the occupant of the Roman see, by whom it was to be communicated to the Western churches. The few who afterwards separated themselves from the unity of the church, and continued to keep the fourteenth day, were named Quartodecimani, and the dispute itself is known as the Quarto-deciman controversy. Although measures had thus been taken to secure uniformity of observance, and to put an end to a controversy which had endangered Christian unity, a new difficulty had to be encountered owing to the absence of any authoritative rule by which the paschal moon was to be ascertained. The subject is a very difficult and complex one (see also Calendar). Briefly, it may be explained here that Easter day is the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. This, of course, varies in different longitudes, while a further difficulty occurred in the attempt to fix the correct time of Easter by means of cycles of years, when the changes of the sun and moon more or less exactly repeat themselves. At first an eight years' cycle was adopted, but it was found to be faulty, then the Jewish cycle of 84 years was used, and remained in force at Rome till the year 457, when a more accurate calculation of a cycle of 532 years, invented by Victorius of Acquitaine, took its place. Ultimately a cycle of 19 years was accepted, and it is the use of this cycle which makes the Golden Number and Sunday Letter, explained in the preface to the Book of Common Prayer, necessary. Owing to this lack of decision as to the accurate finding of Easter, St Augustine tells us (Epist. 23) that in the year 387 the churches of Gaul kept Easter on the 21st of March, those of Italy on the 18th of April, and those of Egypt on the 25th of April; and it appears from a letter of Leo the Great (Epist. 64, ad Marcian.) that in 455 there was a difference of eight days between the Roman and the Alexandrine Easter. Gregory of Tours relates that in 577 "there was a doubt about Easter. In Gaul we with many other cities kept Easter on the fourteenth calends of May, others, as the Spaniards, on the twelfth calends of April." The ancient British and Celtic churches followed the cycle of 84 years which they had originally received from Rome, and their stubborn refusal to abandon it caused much bitter controversy in the 8th century between their representatives and St Augustine of Canterbury and the Latin missionaries. These latter unfairly attempted to fix the stigma of the Quartodeciman observance on the British and Celtic churches, and they are even now sometimes ignorantly spoken of as having followed the Asiatic practice as to Easter. This, however, is quite erroneous. The British and Celtic churches always kept Easter according to the Nicene decree on a Sunday. The difference between them and the Roman Church, at this period, was that they still followed the 84 years' cycle in computing Easter, which had been abandoned at Rome for the more accurate cycle of 532 years. This difference of calculation led to Easter being observed on different Sundays, in certain years, in England, by the adherents of the two churches. Thus Bede records that in a certain year (which must have been 645, 647, 648 or 651) Queen Eanfleda, who had received her instruction from a Kentish priest of the Roman obedience, was fasting and keeping Palm Sunday, while her husband, Oswy, king of Northumbria, following the rule of the British church, was celebrating the Easter festival. This diversity of usage was ended, so far as the kingdom of Northumbria was concerned, by the council of Streaneshalch, or Whitby, in 654. To Archbishop Theodore is usually ascribed the credit of ending the difference in the rest of England in 669.
The Gregorian correction of the calendar in 1582 has once more led to different days being observed. So far as Western Christendom is concerned the corrected calendar is now universally accepted, and Easter is kept on the same day, but it was not until 1752 that the Gregorian reformation of the calendar was adopted in Great Britain and Ireland. Jealousy of everything emanating from Rome still keeps the Eastern churches from correcting the calendar according to the Gregorian reformation, and thus their Easter usually falls before, or after, that of the Western churches, and only very rarely, as was the case in 1865, do the two coincide.
Easter, as commemorating the central fact of the Christian religion, has always been regarded as the chief festival of the Christian year, and according to a regulation of Constantine it was to be the first day of the year. This reckoning of the year as beginning at Easter lingered in France till 1565, when, by an ordinance of Charles IX., the ist of January finally took its place.
Four different periods may be mentioned as connected with. the observance of Easter, viz. (r) the preparatory fast of the forty days of Lent; (2) the fifteen days, beginning with the Sunday before and ending with the Sunday after Easter, during which the ceremonies of Holy Week and the services of the Octave of Easter were observed; this period, called by the French the Quinzaine de Pdques, was specially observed in that. country; (3) the Octave of Easter, during which the newlybaptized wore their white garments, which they laid aside on the Sunday after Easter, known as Dominica in albis depositis from this custom; another name for this Sunday was Pascha clausum, or the close of Easter, and from a clipping of the word "close" the English name of "Low" Sunday is believed to be derived; (4) Eastertide proper, or the paschal season beginning at Easter and lasting till Whit Sunday, during the whole of which time the festival character of the Easter season was maintained. in the services of the church.
Many ecclesiastical ceremonies, growing up from early times, clustered round the celebration of the Easter festival. One of the most notable of these was the use of the paschal candle. This was a candle of very large dimensions, set in a candlestick big enough to hold it, which was usually placed on the north side, just below the first ascent to the high altar. It was kept. alight during each service till Whitsuntide. The Paschal, as it. was called at Durham cathedral, was one of the chief sights of that church before the Reformation. It was an elaborate construction of polished brass, and, contrary to the usual custom, seems to have been placed in the centre of the altar-step, long branches stretching out towards the four cardinal points, bearing smaller candles. The central stem of the candlestick was about 38 ft. high, and bore the paschal candle proper, and together they reached a combined height of about 70 ft., the candle being lighted from an opening above. Other paschal candles seem to have been of scarcely less size. At Lincoln, c. 1300, the candle was to weigh three stones of wax; at Salisbury in 1517 it was to be 36 ft. long; and at Westminster in 1558 it weighed no less than 3 cwt. of wax. After Whitsuntide what remained was made into smaller candles for the funerals of the poor. In the ancient. churches at Rome the paschal candlesticks were fixtures, but elsewhere they were usually movable, and were brought into the church and set up on the Thursday before Easter. At Winchester the paschal candlestick was of silver, and was the gift of Canute.. Others of more or less importance are recorded as having been. at Canterbury, Bury St Edmunds, Hereford and York. The burning of the paschal candle still forms part of the Easter ceremonial of the Roman Catholic Church (see Lights, Ceremonial).
The liturgical colour for Easter was everywhere white, as the sign of joy, light and purity, and the churches and altars were adorned with the best ornaments that each possessed. Flowers. and shrubs no doubt in early times were also used for this purpose, but what evidence there is goes against the medieval. use of such decorations, which are so popular at the present day.
It is not the purpose of this article to enter on the wide subject of the popular observances, such as the giving and sending of Pasch or Easter eggs as presents. For such the reader may consult Brand's Popular Antiquities, Hone's Every-Day Book, and Chambers's Book of Days. AuTH0RITIEs. - Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church;: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England; Procter and Frere, A New History of the Book of Common Prayer (London, 1901); Surtees Society, Rites of Durham, ed. J. T. Fowler (1903); De Morgan, Companion to the Almanac (1845); De Moleon, Voyages liturgiques (Paris, 1718). (T. M. F.)
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Originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honour of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover. Hence the name came to be given to the festival of the Resurrection of Christ, which occured at the time of the Passover. In the early English versions this word was frequently used as the translation of the Greek pascha (the Passover). When the Authorized Version (1611) was formed, the word "passover" was used in all passages in which this word pascha occurred, except in Acts 12:4. In the Revised Version the proper word, "passover," is always used.
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Easter is a holiday that was celebrated before the Christians came to Northern Europe. It is a celebration of the early German and English Goddess of Spring, Eastre. When Christians wanted to make other people believe in their religion, they changed this holiday to a Christian one. It then became, instead, a holiday to celebrate when Christians believe that Jesus Christ is said to have returned from the dead. Christians believe that Easter is the holiest day in the year. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday, following the first full moon, following the first day of spring.
Easter is not held on the same date every year. Currently all Christian Churches agree on how the date is calculated. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday, following the first full moon, at least 14 days after the Spring Equinox. This means it is celebrated in March or April, most of the time.
Western churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, use the Gregorian calendar and Eastern churches, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, use the Julian calendar. Because of this the date of Easter celebrations is different for these two types of churches even though the way they calculate the date is the same.
Some people who are not Christians celebrate the beginning of Spring at Easter.
The word, "Easter" comes from the ancient German word, Eastre, Goddess of the Spring.
[[File:|thumb|170px|left|Resurrected Jesus and Mary Magdalene, early 1900s Bible Card illustration]] Christians believe that Jesus was killed on the cross about 2000 years ago by the Romans in a city called Jerusalem. (Most of Jerusalem is in the modern country of Israel.) The people who killed him did so because they believed that he was causing trouble for the government and because he was claiming to be God. When they crucified him (meaning they nailed him to a cross), they even hung a sign over his head to make fun of him for this reason. This sign said "King of the Jews". The day he was crucified is known by Christians as Good Friday.
Christians believe that two days after Jesus was killed (on Easter Sunday), his followers searched in his tomb and found that his body was gone. Later, Jesus is said to have appeared to about 300 people and preached to them. It was because of this that his followers knew that Jesus was God, just as he said. The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is what Christianity is based on. The resurrection made people believe that Jesus was the powerful Son of God. It is also spoken of as proof that God will judge the world fairly. Christians believe that God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians believe that through faith in God they are spiritually made alive with Jesus so that they may lead a new life.
Today, people celebrate Easter in a number of different ways: they give each other or hide to have children find, colourful Easter eggs; they also give each others candy. Sometimes they even give each other baby ducks, chickens, or bunnies as presents, though this is not done as much as it used to be. These ways of celebrating having nothing to do with Christianity, they come from the Spring celebrations from old European nature religions. Christians and even people who are not Christians dress very nicely and go to church on Easter Sunday. Large dinners are usually held on Easter afternoon as well. A ham is often at the center of this dinner.
At a time of the year near to this, Jews celebrate the holiday of Passover.
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