What is the true meaning of Easter Sunday? Why does the date of Easter change every year? Why are eggs associated with Easter? Here are some answers from The Old Farmer’s Almanac!
When is Easter 2018?
Easter is a “movable feast” and does not have a fixed date; however, it is always on a Sunday.
(Today’s Gregorian calendar)
Eastern Orthodox Church
|2017||April 16||April 16|
|2018||April 1||April 8|
|2019||April 21||April 28|
What is Easter Sunday?
Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar—and has been regularly observed from the earliest days of the Church.
Easter Sunday celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead, following crucifixion. It marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, and the last day of the Easter Triduum (starting from the evening of Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday), as well as the beginning of the Easter season of the liturgical year.
The resurrection represents the triumph of good over evil, sin, death, and the physical body.
How is the Date of Easter Determined?
Would you believe that the date of Easter is related to the full Moon? Specifically, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full Moon on or just after the vernal equinox. This full Moon is referred to as the paschal full Moon.
For simplicity, the equinox is considered March 21 (a fixed spring date set by the Church) though it may also occur on the 20th. 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 slightly from the actual full Moon date.
Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25.
Eastern Orthodox Church
Certain Christian churches, such as many Eastern Orthodox churches, follow the Julian calendar, either for movable feasts or for all religious observances. In this case, the observance can occur between April 4 and May 8 (translating to today’s Gregorian calendar dates).
What is the Golden Number?
Readers often ask us about the Golden Number, which was traditionally used in calculations for determining the date of Easter.
The Moon repeats the dates of its phases approximately every 19 years (the Metonic cycle), and the Golden Number represents a year in that cycle. The year of the cycle can then be used to determine the date of Easter.
To Calculate the Golden Number:
Add 1 to any given year and divide the result by 19, ensuring that you calculate to the nearest whole number; the remainder is the Golden Number. If there is no remainder, the Golden Number is 19.
For example, to calculate the Golden Number for 2018, we take 2018 and add 1, resulting in 2019, then divide it evenly by 19, giving us 106 with a remainder of 5. Therefore, the Golden Number for 2018 is 5, meaning 2018 is the 5th year of the Metonic cycle.
Easter Traditions and Folklore
An Easter tradition seen around the world is the coloring of eggs. Bright, artificial dyes are popular now, but some folks still use natural dyes, such as those from onion skins, to give their eggs a more natural look. In parts of Eastern Europe, it’s tradition to draw intricate designs on the egg with wax before coloring.
In Australia, where rabbits are considered an invasive species, the Easter Bilby is a somewhat popular alternative to the Easter Bunny. (A bilby is a small mammal similar in appearance to a rabbit, but is native to Australia.)
Folk symbols include:
- Eggs, traditionally forbidden during Lent, symbolize new life.
- The Easter Bunny recalls the hare, the Egyptian symbol of fertility.
- The lamb is said to symbolize Jesus, as it embodies purity and goodness, but also represents sacrifice.
- The Easter lily, with its sheer white petals, is said to symbolize purity and innocence, as well as the resurrection of Jesus.
Where Did the Word “Easter” Come From?
The exact origin of the word “Easter” is unclear. However, it may have derived its name from the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess Eostre, whose feast was celebrated each spring at about this time.
Alternatively, it may have derived from words meaning “rising,” “dawn,” or “east.”
Happy Easter from your editors at The Old Farmer’s Almanac!