Why do we always ask what date Easter falls on every year? Why is Easter’s date not fixed like that of Christmas? You’ve probably wondered about these questions. Perhaps, it even crossed your mind this Easter week.
Some questions, no matter what their level of significance is, won’t stop bugging your mind till you get answers to them. So you just have to satisfy your curiosity.
This year’s Easter Sunday falls on the 21st of April 2019 while last year’s fell on the 1st of April 2019 and the year before that was 16th April 2017. What accounts for these differences in dates? And who determines when this important feast in Christianity is celebrated?
Mathematics, that’s the short answer. The Hebrew calendar determines the Passover date—the time during which Jesus died and resurrected, according to the bible. Christians of old celebrated Easter any date from the day of Passover till the following week until the council of Nicea established new rules in 325 AD to unify the time of celebration. No more will Easter be celebrated using the Jewish calendar that’s based on shifting lunar and solar cycles.
The religious festival that marked the resurrection and death of Jesus Christ will now be celebrated on a Sunday that immediately follows the Paschal Full Moon annual date—a decision that caused and is still causing a lot of debate and confusion.
Why the disagreement and confusion, you ask? It’s all due to the method of calculation. The Western church used astronomer’s approximated calculations of the dates of the full moon to develop a table of Ecclesiastical full moon dates. Based on this table, the full moon dates range from March 21 to April 18 and as such, Easter’s dates will always be within March 22 through April 25. Confusion about Easter dates often arise when the Paschal Full Moon dates and the church’s March equinox do not correspond with astronomical dates of these events. This is one of the reasons why the calculation of Easter dates is still challenged to this day.
“Nobody’s really sure how each other is doing the calculation and their reasons for doing it,” says Susan Wessel, a religious and theological studies professor at Catholic University. So the division among Christians about when to celebrate Easter remains.
While Catholics and Protestants subscribe to this calculation, some other Christian denominations choose to use a different calculation. Western churches have already celebrated Easter on April 21 this year and Eastern orthodox churches will be celebrating theirs a week after.
Anyway, based on the Ecclesiastical full moon dates, Easter Sunday 2020 will come earlier than this year’s own. It will be celebrated on Sunday, 12 April—now you won’t wonder why next year’s date isn’t the same as this year’s, will you?