Sunday April 20, 2003

Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday in the western Christian (Gregorian) calendar. Eastern Christian churches that follow the Julian calendar tend to celebrate Easter on a different date.

Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the paschal moon) — unless that full moon falls on the equinox, in which case it's the next full moon — unless the full moon falls on a Sunday, in which case it's the following Sunday. The reason for the changing date has to do with the relationship of Easter to the Jewish feast of Passover.

According to the New Testament, the Last Supper (which took place on the feast of Passover) fell on a Thursday. The Crucifixion occurred on Friday and the Resurrection occurred on Sunday. The Christian commemoration of Easter was therefore associated with Passover. Passover, however, doesn't occur on a set date, but begins on the day of the first full moon following the spring equinox. Early Christians of Jewish origin celebrated Easter in its relation to the Passover feast while those of Gentile origin wanted to celebrate the resurrection on a Sunday.

More confusion occurs because the spring equinox can fall on either March 20 or 21. In the year 325, the Council of Nicea met to determine a compromise. The official Church equinox would always be March 21; Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21. If the full moon fell on a Sunday, Easter would be celebrated on the following Sunday to avoid coinciding with the feast of Passover.

There were still a few difficulties with making this calculation. The Julian calendar was drifting slowly out of synchronization with the solar year; calculating the date of future Easter celebrations was made difficult for astronomers. By 1752, however, most of the "western" world had adopted the Gregorian calendar (introduced to parts of the world in 1582) and western Christian churches now celebrate Easter at the same time. The eastern churches, however, still use the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Easter on a different date, most years.

The next question I had was: Why is it called Easter? I understood that rabbits and eggs were symbols of older fertility celebrations (eggs are a symbol of new life). But I didn't know the reason for the name, "Easter".

The English word Easter derives from Eostre, the name of an ancient goddess of Spring and fertility. The goddess was honored every year at the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, when the days began again to lengthen and grow warmer. Not all languages or cultures refer to the Christian holiday in its relationship to the celebration of Spring and Eostre; however. In many languages the name of the Christian holiday is derived from the Jewish word Pesach (Passover), for example Pascha (Latin and Greek), Pasqua (Italian), Paques (French).

References:
Elusive Easter
When is Easter?
Catholic Encyclopedia: Easter Controversy
Easter (encyclopedia entry)

Easter Sunday ( in category In The News ) - posted at Sun, 20 Apr, 01:19 Pacific | «e»