HOUSTON, April 17, 2011 – Easter Sunday will fall on April 24 this year,. To some, that date seems a long time coming, and many are wondering why it’s so late this year. Some years, Easter Sunday falls in March; other years, in April. So what gives? The pope doesn’t set the Easter calendar, though. Rather, it’s set by more celestial powers: the Earth and the moon.
In the United States and other countries, Easter Sunday cannot occur before the first full moon of the vernal (spring) equinox. In 2011, the vernal equinox fell on March 20, one day after a full moon. Therefore, Christianity had to wait until the next full moon, occurring April 18, before Easter could be set. April 24 is the first Sunday this year to come after April 18.
For Roman Catholics and other observing Christian denominations, Lent must be at least 40 days, so Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, is determined after Easter’s date is set by counting backward. This is why pre-Lenten Mardi Gras was celebrated in March, rather than the month of February, which is more common.
In 2012, the vernal equinox will be March 20, and the first full moon will occur April 6; therefore, Easter will be celebrated April 8. Consequently, Ash Wednesday will be set for Feb. 22. That gives party-goers Feb. 21 to break out the festivities of Mardi Gras.
Easter is a moveable feast because of a few factors in determining the exact date of the Resurrection event and the Jewish Passover. Modern-day scholars know that Jesus was crucified the day after Passover, but the exact date and year of Passover remains in question.
The ancient Romans began to use a Julian calendar, the modern-day calendar, in 45 or 46 B.C., and the Jewish people did not adapt to it. The ancient Jewish calendar had only 354 lunar days, unlike the solar calendar of the Romans, and included an intercalary (extra) month every four years.
Aside from the early Jewish Christians of the Orient, most of the first Christians commemorated the memory of the Resurrection by adapting the idea of the sacrificial lamb that the Jews celebrated the day after Passover. Passover is the 15-22 of the Jewish month Nissan.
Despite the technicalities of the feast day, Easter is the centermost point of the Church year, and celebrates the origin of Christianity.
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Erica Bonnell is a native Houstonian and proud Texan. Aside from travelling, volunteering and educating, she spends much of her spare time in theological pursuits. Her personal adventures with faith and divorce are regularly blogged at http://writtenstraw.wordpress.com.
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