• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Easter, a movable feast

Food For Thought

When, as a young teenager, I noticed my birthday was on the same DATE every year, but not on the same DAY of the week, I began to wonder about the date of Easter. Easter was always on a Sunday, I knew, but sometimes it occurred before my birthday, and sometimes after. Sometimes Easter was in the month of March, sometimes not until fairly late in April. I couldn’t find any other holiday that couldn’t seem to make up its mind as to which month it belonged in. How were we supposed to plan for it when there seemed so little consistency about when it would arrive? And it wasn’t just Easter alone affected by this uncertainty; other religious events and several secular affairs are fixed in time according to their relationship to the date of Easter.
I’ve since found out I wasn’t the only person who wondered about this and thought it should be corrected. It seems to have taken a long, long time to work out the discrepancy, and the problem still isn’t perfectly solved. In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea unanimously decided Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. If the full moon was on a Sunday, it would coincide with Passover, so to avoid conflict, Easter should be celebrated on the following Sunday. It was still impossible to determine the correct date because of the discrepancy between the solar year and the lunar year. There was a gradually increasing gap between the astronomical year and the Julian calendar which was then being used. The church tried different ways of setting the date, but none were satisfactory, and in the year 387, there was a 35-day discrepancy between the Easter observances in France and in Egypt.
About 80 years later, Pope Hilarius commissioned an astronomer to reform the calendar and determine the date of Easter. There were a few adjustments over the next couple centuries, and then that method prevailed for the most part until the 16th century and the reform of the Julian calendar by Pope Gregory XIII.
The new Gregorian calendar eliminated much of the difficulty in fixing the date of Easter and in arranging the ecclesiastical year. Since Great Britain and Ireland adopted the new calendar in 1752, Easter has been on the same day everywhere in western Christianity. The eastern churches continue to use the older dating, but the dates do coincide occasionally, most recently in 1963.
Because the Easter holiday affects a varied number of secular affairs in many countries, it has long been urged that the movable dates of the festival be either narrowed in range or replaced by a fixed date as is Christmas. In 1923, the problem was referred to the Holy See, which has found no canonical objection to the proposed reform. In 1928, the British Parliament enacted a measure allowing the Church of England to commemorate Easter on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Despite these steps toward reform, Easter continues to be a movable feast.
And, I still have to depend on someone else to tell me when Easter is every year.
I used to get calendars every Christmas; banks, pharmacies, schools and other people I dealt with on a regular basis made sure I got one. Most of these were nice, big calendars with lovely pictures and ample spaces to write reminders of meetings, appointments, birthdays, etc. Such calendars also featured the phases of the moon, and announced the first days of spring, fall, summer and winter. They notified me of all national holidays, and Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday were always clearly identified. Now, there is one small holdout to that old tradition. One independent businessman, that I never see but who does services for me a couple times a year, manages to send me a small calendar attached to an equally small card bearing the business address and phone number. Alas, the calendar is only a couple inches wide, with no space for holidays to be listed, no more informative than the minuscule calendar to be found on the back of the check register in my checkbook.
I have no shortage of calendars available to me, however. There’s one on my cell phone, visible at the touch of a button and there are two or three on my computer screen, I simply have to point the cursor at them. Unfortunately, these do not tell me when Easter Sunday is. Nor do they mark the beginning of the seasons, the phases of the moon, Mother’s Day, Halloween, Labor Day or Memorial Day. No, I find I have to depend on the grocery store and the evening news to remind me when those holidays are at hand. The anchorman always mentions a coming holiday, as if it were actual news. And when the supermarket has a special on eggs and chocolate rabbits, I can figure out for myself Easter is coming soon.