How and when it is celebrated.
Rabbits, eggs and other Easter traditions
The Christian Liturgical Calendar:
Until the 4th century CE, Easter and Pentecost were the only two holy days
that Christians observed. Easter Sunday was the main day of celebration, formally recognized by the Council
of Nicea in 325 CE. Pentecost Sunday was also observed as a less important holy day,
7 weeks/49 days after Easter. Other occasions related to Jesus' execution were gradually added to
the church calendar:
Lent (in Latin: Quadragesima): This was a period of spiritual preparation for Easter which
typically involves fasting, penance and prayer. It was originally established by various
Christian groups as an interval ranging from a few days to several weeks. It was
eventually fixed in the 8th century CE at 40 days. (The number 40 is one of many magical
numbers with religious significance in the Bible. 40 days
recalls the interval that Jesus, Moses and Elias spent in the desert. Other
magical numbers were 3, 7, 12, and 70). Among Roman
Catholics, Lent lasts for 38 days spread across six and a half weeks before Easter; it starts on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Holy Thursday, and does not include Sundays. Other Western traditions observe Lent for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and also do not include Sundays. Among the
Eastern Orthodox churches, it is a full eight weeks.|
Mardi Gres (a.k.a. Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday): This is held on Tuesday, the day before the first day
The reference to "fat" refers to the custom of eating righ fatty foods on the evening before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.|
Ash Wednesday: This is held on the first day
of Lent, a Wednesday. |
||Holy Week: the week before Easter Sunday:
Palm Sunday (a.k.a. Passion Sunday): This is held on the Sunday before Easter Sunday and begins Holy Week. It
recalls Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem one week before his execution.
Holy Monday commemorates Jesus' cleansing of the
temple, when he committed aggravated assaulted against money changers and other
commercial interests who had tables within the Temple. Some believe that this triggered his arrest and
crucifixion. It certainly would have been considered an act of insurrection by
the occupying Roman Army, particularly because it occurred so close to a
Passover when nationalistic feelings among Jews were at an all-time
Holy Tuesday recalls Jesus' description to his disciples on the Mount
of Olives of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Holy Wednesday (once called Spy Wednesday) recalls Judas' decision to
betray Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, Jesus agony in the garden
and his arrest. "Maundy" is derived from the Latin "mandatum"
(commandment of God in John 13:34-35 For centuries, people in authority
have washed the feet of their followers on this day.
Good Friday recalls Jesus' death on the cross. The origin of the word
"good" has been lost. Some claim that it is a corruption of "God" and
that the early Christians called this day "God's Friday." "God"
morphed in to "good" just as "God be with you" has become
"goodbye." Others claim
that "good" refers to the blessings of humanity that Christians believe arose as
a result of Jesus' execution.
"A fourth-century church manual, the Apostolic
Constitutions, called Good Friday a 'day of mourning, not a day
of festive Joy.' Ambrose, the fourth-century archbishop who befriended
the notorious sinner Augustine of Hippo before his conversion, called it
the 'day of bitterness on which we fast'." 10
Holy Saturday (a.k.a. Easter Eve) is the final day of
Holy Week and of Lent.
Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus' resurrection. In the early church, converts were
baptized into church membership on this day after a lengthy period of instruction. This
tradition continues today in some churches.
Feast of the Ascension (a.k.a Ascension Day) is a
celebration of Jesus' ascension up into the clouds towards
heaven. The event is described as happening on a Monday, one day after Jesus' ressurection, in Luke 24:51. The same author, writing in Acts 1:9, described
as happening 40 days after his resurrection. The church celebrates the feast
on a Thursday, 40
days after Easter Sunday. Although tradition states that it was first celebrated in 68 CE,
it did not become formally recognized by the church until the late 3rd century.|
Pentecost (a.k.a. Whit Sunday) is now celebrated 7
weeks/49 days after Easter Sunday. It recalls the visitation of the Holy Spirit to 120
Christians, both apostles and followers. They spoke in tongues
(in foreign languages that they had not previously personally known) to the assembled crowd.
were baptized. The day was originally a Jewish festival which was called "Pentecost,"
because it was observed 50 days after Passover. (The Greek word for 50'th day is "pentecoste.")
This is usually regarded as the date of the birth of the Christian church. The feast was
mentioned in a 2nd century book, and was formally recognized in the 3rd century
How the date of Easter is determined:
It is important to realize that Easter is not celebrated at the anniversary
of Jesus' death and reported resurrection. The year of his execution is unknown;
estimates range from 29 to 33 CE. And so, the anniversaries of the actual events go unobserved year by year. Even if the year of Jesus' execution was known, there are differences in belief among Christians about whether whether the crucifixion happened on a Wednesday or a Friday. Also the date when Jesus is said to have been resurrected is not clear. The Bible describes some of his female followers as having discovered the empty tomb, but it is unclear whether Jesus' resurrection occurred that morning, or even the day before.
Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after MAR-20, the
nominal date of the Spring Equinox. Many sources incorrectly state that the starting date
of the calculation is the actual day of the Equinox rather than the nominal date of
MAR-20. Other sources use an incorrect reference date of MAR-21.
A little known fact is that the timing of the full moon is based upon the Metonic Cycle, a method of calculating the date of the full moon known to
the ancient Greek astronomer Meton, who lived in the 5th century BCE. This calculation is only approximate; it occasionally diverges from the actual astronomical
data. 5 For example, in the year 2019, the date of Easter according to a precise astronomical calculation will be MAR-24. However, the Western Church will observe it on APR-21.
Easter Sunday in the West can fall on any date from March 22 to April 25th. The year-to-year
sequence is so complicated that it takes 5.7 million years to repeat. Eastern Orthodox
churches sometimes celebrate Easter on the same day as the rest of Christendom. However if
that date does not follow Passover, then the Orthodox churches delay their Easter --
sometimes by over a month. To make matters more complex, most Eastern Orthodox
churches use the Julian Calendar which is currently offset by 12 days from the
used Gregorian Calendar.
Dates of Easter Sunday are listed below for years 1990 to 2049, both in the Christian West and East. 9 All dates are according to the Gregorian Calendar.
During the 21st century, in the West, Easter Sunday will occurr on April 01 (April Fools Day) during 2018. 2029, and 2040. This should generate many April Fools jokes. Miles Towns published a report in the Christian Century titled "When Easter Sunday falls on April Fools' Day," in which he says that he once regarded: "that the Bible was all heavy stuff." In his article, he refers to many passages containing humor in the Bible. 12
See The Date of
Orthodox Easter 1875 to 2124 for corresponding Eastern Orthodox dates, in
both the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
Wikipedia provides the following table of dates for Easter Sunday during 2013 and surrounding years:
(2013 is highlighted with a yellow background because the chart was copied during that year from the Wikipedia web site.)
Although these dates were taken from sources that we believe to be reliable, do not
rely on their accuracy. We cannot accept responsibility for any errors.
R.W. Mallen's "Easter Dating Method," shows for methods of calculating the dates of Easter Sunday, both for the
Western and Orthodox churches. 1
Graeme Mcrae, a mathematician, calculated the date of Easter according to the
Gregorian calendar for dates extending over 30 millennia, from 1583 to 31583 CE!. Some of his findings:
- There are 35 possible dates.
- They range from MAR-22 to APR-25.
- APR-19 was the most common; it occurred 1,159 times.
- APR-18 was the next most common at 1,043 times.
Dates from MAR-28 to APR-20 were relatively equal in frequency of occurrence. 7
These have been derived primarily from Pagan traditions at Easter time:
Hot Cross Buns: At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon
fertility Goddess, an ox was sacrificed. The ox's horns became a symbol for the feast.
They were carved into the ritual bread. Thus originated "hot cross buns". The
word "buns" is derived from the Saxon word "boun" which means
"sacred ox." Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the
buns; the cross represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the Goddess, and its
||Easter Rabbit and Eggs:
The symbols of the Norse Goddess Ostara were
the hare and the egg. Both represented fertility. From these, we
have inherited the customs and symbols of the Easter egg and Easter
Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the ancient,
pre-Christian Babylonian mystery religions. "The egg as a symbol of
fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and
Persians, who had also the custom of coloring and eating eggs during
their spring festival." 2
"Like the Easter egg, the Easter hare came to Christianity from
antiquity. The hare is associated with the moon in the legends of
ancient Egypt and other peoples....Through the fact that the
Egyptian word for hare, UM, means also "open" and "period," that
hare came to be associated with the idea of periodicity, both lunar
and human, and with the beginning of new life in both the young man
and young woman, and so a symbol of fertility and of the renewal of
life. As such, the hare became linked with Easter...eggs." 2
||Christian tradition states that when Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14 - 37 CE), she gave him a red egg as a symbol of the
Resurrection -- a symbol of new life. Some believe that the Christian
tradition of giving eggs to each other at Easter time came from this
Easter Lilies: "The so-called 'Easter lily' has long been
revered by pagans of various lands as a holy symbol associated with the reproductive
organs. It was considered a phallic symbol!" 3|
Easter Sunrise Service: This custom can be traced back to the ancient
Pagan custom of welcoming the sun God at the vernal equinox - when daytime is about to
exceed the length of the nighttime. It was a time to "celebrate the return of
life and reproduction to animal and plant life as well." 4 Worship of the
God at sunrise may be the religious ritual condemned by Jehovah as recorded in:
Ezekiel 8:16-18: "...behold, at the door of the temple of
Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs
toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east; and they were worshipping
the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen (this), O son of man? Is it
a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit
here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have turned again to provoke me to
anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in wrath;
mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with
a loud voice, yet will I not hear them." (ASV)
Easter Candles: These are sometimes lit in churches on the eve of
Easter Sunday. Some commentators believe that these can be directly linked to the Pagan
customs of lighting bonfires at this time of year to welcome the rebirth/resurrection of
the sun God.
References used in the above essay:
R.W. Mallem "Easter Dating Method," at: http://www.assa.org.au/edm.html
"Easter," Encyclopedia Britannica
A. J. Dager, "Facts and Fallacies of the Resurrection," Page 5. Cited
in: R.K. Tardo, "Rabbits, Eggs and Other Easter Errors," at: http://syscdj1.gmu.edu/
This essay is also no longer available.
Arnold Gordon, untitled essay at:
"Toward a Common Date for Easter," World Council of Churches /
Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997 at:
"Table for finding Easter/Pascha dates," Evangelical Lutheran
Church of America, at:
"Distribution of Easters," Mathematics Enrichment, at:
"Feasts and Saints of the Orthodox Church: July 22," Orthodox
Church in America, at:
"Easter Sunday Dates" GM Arts, Popular Science section, at: http://www.gmarts.org/
Chris Armstrong, "The Goodness of Good Friday. An unhappy celebrationisn't
that an oxymoron?," Christian History newsletter, 2003-APR-18, at:
"Easter," Wikipedia, as on 2013-MAR-31, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
Miles Townes, "When Easter Sunday falls on April Fools' Day," The Christian Century, 2018-FEB-21, at: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day
Copyright 1999 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-MAR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson