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Easter Dates: Why Does Easter Fall on a Different Date Every Year?
Eostre Goddess of fertility and new beginnings
Why Does Easter Fall on a Different Date Every Year?
Easter is a holiday that dates back almost 2,000 years, before Christianity. Many countries celebrate Easter, and they celebrate the holiday in various ways. Easter gets its name from a goddess named Eostre, who was the goddess of spring.
Eostre found a beautiful bird that was injured and could not fly; thus, she turned the bird into a rabbit. However, the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs, and it gave Eostre a basketful of colored eggs as a thank you gift for her kindness. This story began the tradition of coloring eggs to honor the beginning of spring.
The tradition changed sometime in the middle of the 1800's when manufacturers in Europe began making chocolate eggs. Chocolate became extremely popular, and soon they were making chocolate bunnies, as well. Today, it is common for people to fill baskets with chocolate and other forms of candy.
There is even evidence of coloring eggs and offering them as gifts dating back before the times of Eostre. The Chinese have been coloring eggs bright red for their spring celebrations for about 3,000 years, and Druids used them during spring celebrations about 6,000 years ago. Scientists even found many large, 60,000 year-old ostrich egg shells in South Africa with intricate sketches on them.
Easter has been called a movable feast because it does not fall on a set date every year
There are only a few holidays that fall on different dates each year, such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Easter. Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November of each year, and Memorial Day takes place on the first Monday in September, but how is Easter's date determined?
Easter takes place on a different date every year, and it can occur anywhere from March the 22nd through April the 25th. So, how do they determine when the holiday's date will be each year? In technical terms, the date that Easter will occur is the first Sunday that follows the full moon after spring begins.
The date of Easter is based on the Spring Equinox
This method, of computing the holiday's date, began many centuries ago before the birth of Jesus Christ. Catholic and Protestant churches, both, adopted this method from pagan festivals, celebrating the beginning of spring. Determining the exact date of Easter is a bit more scientific, however.
Ancient astronomers closely observed the cycles of, both, the moon and sun, and took notes of their natural movements and how they effected the various seasons. They then used the data they collected to compute a formula that determined the date of the beginning of spring and the pagan Spring Fertility Festival.
This festival was essential to many agricultural groups in the ancient world, as it signified the beginning of spring's planting season. There are two “equinox” days in the year, and they are in the spring and fall. Most people know them as “day-light savings time”.
The spring equinox occurs exactly half-way between the winter solstice (the shortest day of winter) and the summer solstice (the longest day of summer). The autumn equinox is just the opposite, with it occurring exactly half-way between the summer solstice and the winter solstice.
According to the Gregorian calendar, based on the yearly solar cycle, the spring equinox typically occurs on March 20th or 21st each year. However, Romans and many other ancient people had a different type of calendar, beginning their years with the spring equinox.
The Roman's calendar consisted of 28 days, based on the various phases of the moon.
Easter Dates 2010 - 2014
The beginning of the calendar coincided with the first full-moon; and, as such, was a set date within the calendar. However, since present calendars, which are sun-based, are longer than these moon-based calendars, the two calendars never coincide. This is why the date of Easter varies with each year, allowing it to move up or down as many as 28 days after the spring equinox.
As anyone can see, the sun and moon are both essential parts of ancient traditions. There are even many tales in mythology, representing the sun and moon as Gods. Many people thought that the equinox was the passing of the Sun God, allowing the Moon God to take over. Since the moon's cycle was 28 days, many people related it to human menstrual cycles and, thus, fertility.
They chose Sunday for their festival celebrations, because Sunday was the “Day of the Sun” in ancient times. Spring was a time of rebirth and hope after a long winter, and people held these celebrations to honor the Gods in the hope of bountiful harvests and livestock. Today, Easter has changed somewhat from days gone past, but it remains a joyful time of celebration for the beginning of spring and the rebirth of Christ.
Regardless of when it falls, Easter remains the central celebration as well as a major cultural and commercial holiday. Just be sure to check your calendar in advance so you don't miss it!