Easter is a moveable feast, meaning that its date varies from year to year and is not fixed on our calendar. Christmas is always December 25, and New Church Day and Independence Day are always June 19 and July 4, respectively. We also have days like Thanksgiving and Memorial Day which are the last Thursday in November and the last Monday in May. There are also holidays celebrated on the nearest weekend, like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day.
But Easter, along with the dates connected with it, like Palm Sunday, is the only popular Christian holiday that is a moveable feast. All of the Jewish and Muslim holidays are like this, along with such dates as Chinese New Year. The reason is that these holidays are fixed according to lunar calendars, which don’t line up exactly with the Gregorian calendar that is in worldwide use.
The formula for dating Easter was devised by the Venerable Bede in 725 AD: “The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful
Easter.” In theory this is done in order to synchronize Easter and Passover, since the events of Easter took place during the Passover Feast. But in practice Easter and Passover (two words that are the same in many languages) are not always near each other, because they are calculated on different calendars. We count the equinox as March 21, so Easter can vary between March 22 and April 25.
The variations in Easter’s date has an effect on the way that many of us have experienced it. When Easter is as early as March 22 the flowers aren’t out yet, and outdoor activities like a procession with a donkey, or Easter egg hunts, are often done in freezing weather. Dates in April are usually better and often wonderful, but spring weather is more variable than what we count on for July 4th, Charter Day and Christmas.
Another effect of Easter’s variable date is that there isn’t usually the same kind of preparation for it that there is for dates like Christmas. All of December tends to be dedicated to Christmas, with a lot of nostalgia attached to the entire month. But March doesn’t feel much like Easter at all, and April may or may not include Easter.
But these are minor issues, and the varying weather conditions can also be a cause of added interest. The wonderful part about Easter is how complex and beautiful the story is, how intricate and full the Gospel accounts are, and how meaningful and interesting the message is. There is a lot to it, and for me it never gets boring.