Easter (Greek: ?????, Pascha) 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. 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
A.D. 26 and 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
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the
civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established that the
date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon (the
Paschal Full Moon) following the vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the
equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March. The date of Easter therefore
varies between 22 March and 25 April. Eastern Christianity bases its
calculations on the Julian Calendar whose 21 March corresponds, during
the twenty-first century, to 3 April in the Gregorian Calendar, in which
calendar their celebration of Easter therefore varies between 4 April
and 8 May.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover not only for much of its
symbolism but also for its position in the calendar.
Cultural 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.
Easter, annual festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
and the principal feast of the Christian year. It is celebrated on a
Sunday on varying dates between March 22 and April 25 and is therefore
called a movable feast. The dates of several other ecclesiastical
festivals, extending over a period between Septuagesima Sunday (the
ninth Sunday before Easter) and the first Sunday of Advent, are fixed in
relation to the date of Easter.
Connected with the observance of Easter are the 40-day penitential
season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding at midnight on
Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday; Holy Week, commencing on
Palm Sunday, including Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion, and
terminating with Holy Saturday; and the Octave of Easter, extending from
Easter Sunday through the following Sunday. During the Octave of Easter
in early Christian times, the newly baptized wore white garments, white
being the liturgical color of Easter and signifying light, purity, and
Easter, a Christian festival, embodies many pre-Christian traditions.
The origin of its name is unknown. Scholars, however, accepting the
derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede, believe
it probably comes from Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic
goddess of spring and fertility, to whom was dedicated a month
corresponding to April. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the
vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the
Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored easter eggs,
originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of
spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.
Such festivals, and the stories and legends that explain their origin,
were common in ancient religions. A Greek legend tells of the return of
Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the
underworld to the light of day; her return symbolized to the ancient
Greeks the resurrection of life in the spring after the desolation of
winter. Many ancient peoples shared similar legends. The Phrygians
believed that their omnipotent deity went to sleep at the time of the
winter solstice, and they performed ceremonies with music and dancing at
the spring equinox to awaken him. The Christian festival of Easter
probably embodies a number of converging traditions; most scholars
emphasize the original relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of
Passover, or Pesach, from which is derived Pasch, another name for
Easter. The early Christians, many of whom were of Jewish origin, were
brought up in the Hebrew tradition and regarded Easter as a new feature
of the Passover festival, a commemoration of the advent of the Messiah
as foretold by the prophets.
THE DATING OF EASTER
According to the New Testament, Christ was crucified on the eve of
Passover and shortly afterward rose from the dead. In consequence, the
Easter festival commemorated Christ’s resurrection. In time, a serious
difference over the date of the Easter festival arose among Christians.
Those of Jewish origin celebrated the resurrection immediately following
the Passover festival, which, according to their Babylonian lunar
calendar, fell on the evening of the full moon (the 14th day in the
month of Nisan, the first month of the year); by their reckoning,
Easter, from year to year, fell on different days of the week.
Christians of Gentile origin, however, wished to commemorate the
resurrection on the first day of the week, Sunday; by their method,
Easter occurred on the same day of the week, but from year to year it
fell on different dates.
An important historical result of the difference in reckoning the date
of Easter was that the Christian churches in the East, which were closer
to the birthplace of the new religion and in which old traditions were
strong, observed Easter according to the date of the Passover festival.
The churches of the West, descendants of Greco-Roman civilization,
celebrated Easter on a Sunday.
RULINGS OF THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA ON THE DATE OF EASTER
Constantine the Great, Roman emperor, convoked the Council of Nicaea in
325. The council unanimously ruled that the Easter festival should be
celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the
full moon following the vernal equinox; and that if the full moon should
occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival,
Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following. Coincidence of
the feasts of Easter and Passover was thus avoided.
The Council of Nicaea also decided that the calendar date of Easter was
to be calculated at Alexandria, then the principal astronomical center
of the world. The accurate determination of the date, however, proved an
impossible task in view of the limited knowledge of the 4th-century
world. The principal astronomical problem involved was the discrepancy,
called the epact, between the solar year and the lunar year. The chief
calendric problem was a gradually increasing discrepancy between the
true t astronomical year and the Julian calendar then in use.
LATER DATING METHODS
Ways of fixing the date of the feast tried by the church proved
unsatisfactory, and Easter was celebrated on different dates in
different parts of the world. In 387, for example, the dates of Easter
in France and Egypt were 35 days apart. About 465, the church adopted a
system of calculation proposed by the astronomer Victorinus feast
(flourished 5th century), who had been commissioned by Pope Hilarius to
reform the calendar and fix the date of Easter. Elements of his method
are still in use. Refusal of the British and Celtic Christian churches
to adopt the proposed changes led to a bitter dispute between — them and
Rome in the 7th century.
Reform of the Julian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, through
adoption of the Gregorian calendar, eliminated much of the difficulty in
fixing the date of Easter and in arranging the ecclesiastical year;
since 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was also adopted in Great
Britain and Ireland, Easter has been celebrated on the same day in the
Western part of the Christian world. The Eastern churches, however,
which did not adopt the Gregorian calendar, commemorate Easter on a
Sunday either preceding or following the date observed in the West.
Occasionally the dates coincide; the most recent times were in 1865 and
Because the Easter holiday affects a varied number of secular affairs in
many countries, it has long been urged as a matter of convenience that
the movable dates of the festival be either narrowed in range or
replaced by a fixed date in the manner of Christmas. In 1923 the problem
was referred to the Holy See, which has found no canonical objection to
the proposed reform. In 1928 the British Parliament enacted a measure
allowing the Church of England to commemorate Easter on the first Sunday
after the second Saturday in April. Despite these steps toward reform,
Easter continues to be a movable feast.