When is Easter Sunday 2016—and why does the date of Easter change every year? Here are some answers from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Brief History of Easter
Easter Sunday is the most important celebration in the Christian calendar. This Christian holy day celebrates the resurrection of Christ after his Crucifixion and was probably the earliest of the church’s annual festivals. Folk customs attached to the festival date from pre-Christian times:
- Eggs, traditionally forbidden during Lent, symbolize new life.
- The Easter Bunny recalls the hare, the Egyptian symbol of fertility.
Easter may have derived its name from the Saxon goddess Eostre, whose feast was celebrated each spring at about this time. Or, it may have derived from the word oster, meaning “rising.”
Why Does Easter Change Every Year?
Sometimes Easter Sunday falls in late March and sometime in April! It’s confusing isn’t it? The reason Easter falls on different dates annually is because Easter is a “movable” feast based on the lunar calendar.
Specifically, Easter’s timing is tied to the full Moon and the vernal equinox (not the civil calendar).
Does that surprise you? Read on …
How Easter is Calculated
- Christian churches that follow the Gregorian calendar, such as many Western Christian churches, celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the paschal full Moon on or just after the vernal equinox.
For simplicity, the equinox is considered March 21 (a fixed spring date set by the church). The paschal full Moon always falls on the 14th day of a lunar month; because ancient calculations (made in a.d. 325) did not take into account certain lunar motions, it may differ from the actual full Moon date by a day or so.
- Certain Christian churches, such as many Eastern Orthodox churches, follow the Julian calendar, either for movable feasts or for all religious observances. Due to these different methods of calculation, various Christian denominations may celebrate the feast on different days.
- In Christian churches that follow the Gregorian calendar for determining the date of Easter, the observance can never occur before March 22 or after April 25. In Christian churches that follow the Julian calendar for determining the date of Easter, the observance can occur between April 4 and May 8 (using Gregorian calendar dates).
When is Easter 2016?
|2014||April 20||April 20|
|2015||April 5||April 12|
|2016||March 27||May 1|
What is the Golden Number?
Readers often ask us about the Golden Number which is used in calculations for determining the date of Easter.
It’s a number in the 19-year cycle of the Moon. (The Moon repeats the dates of its phases approximately every 19 years.)
Add 1 to any given year and divide the result by 19; the remainder is the Golden Number.
If there is no remainder, the Golden Number is 19.
Happy Easter from your editors at The Old Farmer’s Almanac!