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Easter 2024 will be observed on Sunday, March 31. The most important Christian holiday, Easter, is a “movable feast.” Why does it change every year?
What are the commonest and rarest Easter dates? How is the date determined? Where did the word “Easter” come from? Find answers to these questions on our Everything-Easter page.
When Is Easter 2024?
This year, Easter Sunday will be observed on Sunday, March 31. This is based on the Gregorian calendar. However, many Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. In 2024, Eastern Orthodox Easter will occur on Sunday, May 5(the Julian calendar date converted to the Gregorian calendar).
Eastern Orthodox Church (Julian calendar date converted to Gregorian)
Is Easter Always in March or April?
Easter is a “movable feast,” so it doesn’t happen on the same date from year to year. In the Gregorian calendar, it is always observed on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. However, Easter can be observed between April 4 and May 8 in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
What Is the Most Common Easter Date?
Over a 500-year period (from 1600 to 2099 AD), it just so happens that Easter will have most often been celebrated on either March 31 or April 16.
Easter Sunday always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon. What is the Paschal Full Moon? This is specifically the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or after the March or spring equinox.
While Christmas is fixed to a solar calendar (and near the winter solstice), Easter is based on the lunar cycles of the Jewish calendar. In the Christian religion, the Last Supper (the final meal Jesus shared with his apostles before his crucifixion) was a Passover feast. It’s because Easter is based on a lunar month (which is 29.5 days) that the date of Easter can vary.
Note that the spring equinox date used by the Christian Church is always March 21 to simplify matters. In fact, the astronomical date of the equinox can shift by a day or so. In 2024, the astronomical date of the equinox is Tueday, March 19. So, you’ll often see this called the “ecclesiastical” equinox (i.e., the date used by the Church).
What Happens When the Full Moon and Spring Equinox Occur on the Same Day?
Generally, if the full Moon occurs on the same day as the spring equinox, Easter is observed on the subsequent Sunday. However, there is a caveat:
As mentioned above, the Christian Church decided to simplify calculating Easter’s date by always observing the spring equinox on March 21, despite the fact that the equinox date changes over time and is actually getting earlier.
This discrepancy between the astronomical equinox date and the Church’s observed equinox date can sometimes cause confusion, as in 2019 when the full Moon and the astronomical equinox occurred on the same day—Wednesday, March 20.
According to the formula above, this should have meant that Easter would be observed on Sunday, March 24. However, because the Church observes the equinox on March 21, the full Moon technically did not occur “on or just after” the equinox, meaning that the next full Moon would determine Easter’s date instead. Thus, in 2019, Easter was held on Sunday, April 21, after the full Moon on Friday, April 19.
What Is the Paschal Full Moon?
The word “Paschal,” which is used in the ecclesiastical (Christian church) calendar, comes from “Pascha,” a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning “Passover.”
In reference to the full Moon, Paschal refers to the date of the full Moon determined many years ago as the 14th day of a lunar month. Ancient calculations (made in A.D. 325) did not consider certain lunar motions.
So, the Paschal Full Moon is the 14th day of a lunar month occurring on or after March 21 according to a fixed set of ecclesiastical calendar rules, which does not always match the date of the astronomical full Moon nearest the astronomical spring equinox.
It sounds complicated, but the basic idea is to make it simpler to calculate the date for modern calendars. Rest assured, the dates for Easter are calculated long in advance. See past and future Easter dates here.
What Is the Golden Number?
Readers often ask us about the Golden Number, traditionally used in calculations for determining the date of Easter.
The Golden Number is a value used to show the dates of new Moons for each year, following a 19-year cycle.
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 2024, we take 2024 and add 1, resulting in 2025, then divide it evenly by 19, giving us 106 with a remainder of 11. Therefore, the Golden Number for 2024 is 11, meaning 2024 is the 11th year of the Metonic cycle.
What Is Easter?
Easter is the holiest day in the Christian calendar. It observes the most central tenet of the Christian faith—that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. The resurrection represents the triumph of good over evil, sin, death, and the physical body.
Easter Sunday 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.
Where Did the Word “Easter” Come From?
Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Let’s start with Pascha (Latin), which comes directly from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Going back to the Hebrew Bible and the story of the first Passover, Moses tells the Israelites to slaughter a Passover lamb and paint its blood on their door. The Lord protected the Israelites from death by passing over their doors and would not “allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down” (Ex. 12:23).
Paul connects the resurrected Christ to Passover in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7). He refers to Jesus as the paschal lamb sacrificed for his people’s salvation. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples during Passover, so it makes sense that the Feast of the Resurrection is connected with the Jewish holiday. Today, Christians celebrate the “Paschal mystery.”
So, where did the word “Easter” come from? The exact origin of the word “Easter” is unclear. It’s not as simple as saying it has religious origins or pagan origins.
Some historians suggest that it came from the phrase hebdomada alba, Latin for “white week,” used to describe the white garments new Christians wore when they were baptized during Holy Week. In Old German, the word became esostarum and, eventually, Easter.
The Venerable Bede, a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon historian also known as Saint Bede, writes that the word Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess of fertility Eostre, also the goddess of the dawn, who originated in what is now Scandinavia. Over time, early Christians started referring to the Feast of the Resurrection by the name of the month in which it was celebrated—Eosturmonath (what we now call April).
Alternatively, Easter may come from an old German word for “east,” which in turn is derived from a Latin word for “dawn.” In the past, the word easter could mean “to turn toward the east” or “rising” and didn’t necessarily have any implied religious meaning. (Note: It was the Germans who invented the “Easter Bunny” who visited “good” children’s homes, much like they invented Santa Claus.)
The bottom line is that no one truly knows the etymological origins of the word “Easter.” It is one of the oldest Old English words.
In the end, it is unimportant whether Easter comes from the goddess of the dawn or the Latin word for dawn. In whatever language, Easter today is a Christian holiday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection—and the reminder that death brings life.
Our Favorite Easter Recipes
Traditional Easter dishes include seasonal produce as well as symbols of spring such as lamb, ham, eggs, asparagus, spring peas, hot cross buns, sweet breads, and a carrot cake.