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About Easter


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Nature and development

In most languages of Christian societies, other than

English, German and some Slavic languages, the holiday's name is derived from Pesach, the Hebrew name of Passover, a Jewish holiday to which the Christian Easter is intimately linked. Easter depends on Passover not only for much of its symbolic meaning but also for its position in the calendar; the Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples before his crucifixion is generally thought of as a Passover seder, based on the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John has a different chronology which has Christ's death at the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs, which may have been for theological reasons but which is regarded by some scholars as more historically likely given the surrounding events. This would put the Last Supper slightly before Passover, on 14 Nisan of the Hebrew calendar. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "In fact, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration."

The English and German names, "Easter" and "Ostern", are not etymologically derived from Pesach and are instead related to ancient names for the month of April, Eostremonat and Ostaramanoth respectively. According to the 8th century Christian monk and historian Bede, this month was dedicated to the pagan fertility goddess Eostre. The Easter Bunny is often identified as a remnant of this fertility festival, although there is no evidence of any link.

Easter in the early Church

The observance of any special holiday throughout the Christian year is believed by some to be an innovation postdating the early church. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of local custom, "just as many other customs have been established", stating that neither Jesus nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. However, when read in context, this is not a rejection or denigration of the celebration—which, given its currency in Scholasticus' time would be surprising—but is merely part of a defense of the diverse methods for computing its date. Indeed, although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.

Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a 2nd century Paschal homily by Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one.

A number of ecclesiastical historians, primarily Eusebius, bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, by tradition a disciple of John the Evangelist, disputed the computation of the date with bishop Anicetus of Rome in what is now known as the Quartodecimanism controversy. Anicetus became bishop of the church of Rome in the mid second century (c. AD 155). Shortly thereafter, Polycarp visited Rome and among the topics discussed was when the pre-Easter fast should end. Those in Asia held strictly to the computation from the Hebrew calendar and ended the fast on the 14th day of Nisan, while the Roman custom was to continue the fast until the Sunday following. Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus was able to convert the other to his position—according to a rather confused account by Sozomen, both could claim Apostolic authority for their traditions[1]—but neither did they consider the matter of sufficient importance to justify a schism, so they parted in peace leaving the question unsettled. However, a generation later bishop Victor of Rome excommunicated bishop Polycrates of Ephesus and the rest of the Asian bishops for their adherence to 14 Nisan. The excommunication was rescinded and the two sides reconciled upon the intervention of bishop Irenaeus of Lyons, who reminded Victor of the tolerant precedent that had been established earlier. In the end, a uniform method of computing the date of Easter was not formally settled until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (see below), although by that time the Roman timing for the observance had spread to most churches.

A number of early bishops rejected the practice of celebrating Easter, or more accurately Passover, on the first Sunday after Nisan 14. This conflict between Easter and Passover is often referred to as the "Paschal Controversy". The bishops dissenting from the newer practice of Easter favored adhering to celebrating the festival on Nisan 14 in accord with the Biblical Passover and the tradition passed on to them by the Apostles. The problem with Nisan 14 in the minds of some in the Western Church (who wished to further associate Sunday and Easter) is that it was calcuated by the moon and could fall on any day of the week.

An early example of this tension is found written by Theophilus of Caesarea (c. AD 180; 8.774 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers") when he stated, "Endeavor also to send abroad copies of our epistle among all the churches, so that those who easily deceive their own souls may not be able to lay the blame on us. We would have you know, too, that in Alexandria also they observe the festival on the same day as ourselves. For the Paschal letters are sent from us to them, and from them to us—so that we observe the holy day in unison and together."

Polycarp, a disciple of John, likewise adhered to a Nisan 14 observance. Irenaeus, who observed the "first Sunday" rule notes of Polycarp (one of the Bishops of Asia Minor), "For Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the observance [of his Nisan 14 practice] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant." (c. AD 180; 1.569 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers"). Irenaeus notes that this was not only Polycarp's practice, but that this was the practice of John the disple and the other apostles that Polycarp knew.

Polycrates (c. AD 190) emphatically notes this is the tradition passed down to him, that Passover and Unleavened Bread were kept on Nisan 14 in accord with the Biblical Passover and not the later Easter tradition: "As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord.... These all kept Easter on the fourteenth day, in accordance with the Gospel.... Seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth, and my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven" (8.773, 8.744 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers").

Early within the Church it was admitted by both sides of the debate that the Lord's Supper was the practice of the disciples and the tradition passed down. The Last Supper is believed by some to be a Passover Seder (see: The Last Supper). The Nisan 14 practice, which was strong among the churches of Asia Minor, becomes less common as the desire for Church unity on the question came to favor the majority practice. By the 3rd century the Church, which had become Gentile dominated and wishing to further distinguish itself from Jewish practices, began a tone of harsh rhetoric against Nisan 14/Passover (e.g. Anatolius, c. AD 270; 6.148,6.149 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers").

A tradition said to have come out of the First Council of Nicaea states that the Christian Passover (i.e., Easter) was to be celebrated "not with the Jews," that the Jews' calculations (which often varied among themselves, as they were using multiple methods) were not to be followed in determining the date of Easter. This statement was not so much anti-Jewish as simply a recognition that the Passover had now been Christianized, that the Church did not owe its continued existence and practices to the Judaism which Christ had fulfilled and superseded.

The Christianization of the Passover, based on the tradition passed down by the Apostles, has resulted in a number of anti-Easter movements though history. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, who do not celebrate Easter, adhere to a celebration of the Lord's Supper on Nisan 14 with the passing of wine and unleavened bread. Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday.

Date of Easter

Dates for Easter Sunday, 2000-2020
Year Western Eastern
2000 April 23 April 30
2001 April 15
2002 March 31 May 5
2003 April 20 April 27
2004 April 11
2005 March 27 May 1
2006 April 16 April 23
2007 April 8
2008 March 23 April 27
2009 April 12 April 19
2010 April 4
2011 April 24
2012 April 8 April 15
2013 March 31 May 5
2014 April 20
2015 April 5 April 12
2016 March 27 May 1
2017 April 16
2018 April 1 April 8
2019 April 21 April 28
2020 April 12 April 19

In Western Christianity, Easter always falls on a Sunday from March 22 to April 25 inclusive. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions.

Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (which follow the motion of the sun and the seasons). Instead, they are based on a lunar calendar similar—but not identical—to the Hebrew Calendar. The precise date of Easter has often been a matter for contention.

At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the Church, but it is probable that no method was specified by the Council. (No contemporary account of the Council's decisions has survived.) Instead, the matter seems to have been referred to the church of Alexandria, which city had the best reputation for scholarship at the time. The Catholic Epiphanius wrote in the mid-4th Century, "...the emperor...convened a council of 318 the city of Nicea...They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people..."(Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verses 1,1 and 1,3. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp.471-472).

The practice of those following Rome was to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the earliest fourteenth day of a lunar month that occurred on or after March 21. During the Middle Ages this practice was more succinctly phrased as Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. This full moon is called the Paschal full moon. The Church of Rome used its own methods to determine Easter until the 6th century, when it may have adopted the Alexandrian method as converted into the Julian calendar by Dionysius Exiguus (certain proof of this does not exist until the ninth century). Most churches in the British Isles used a late third century Roman method to determine Easter until they adopted the Alexandrian method at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. Since western churches now use the Gregorian calendar to calculate the date and Eastern Orthodox churches use the original Julian calendar, their dates are not usually aligned in the present day.

At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation; this would have side-stepped the calendar issue and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body.

A few clergymen of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter; proposals include always observing the feast on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7. These suggestions have yet to attract significant support, and their adoption in the future is considered unlikely.


The calculations for the date of Easter are somewhat complicated. See computus for a discussion covering both the traditional tabular methods and more exclusively mathematical algorithms such as the one developed by mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

In the Western Church, Easter has not fallen on the earliest of the 35 possible dates, March 22, since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It will, however, fall on March 23, just one day after its earliest possible date in 2008. Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25 in 1943, and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it will fall on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date in 2011.

Historically, other forms of determining the holiday's date were also used. For example, Quartodecimanism was the practice of setting the holiday on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, which is the day of preparation for Passover.

Position in the church year

Western Christianity

In Western Christianity, Easter marks the end of the forty days of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at Easter Sunday.

The week before Easter is very special in the Christian tradition: the Sunday before is Palm Sunday, and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called "Easter Monday". The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with 'Easter', e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Many churches start celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil.

Eastertide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later.

Eastern Christianity

In Eastern Christianity, preparations begin with Great Lent. Following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent is Palm Week, which ends with Lazarus Saturday. Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues for the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Easter itself, or Pascha (Πάσχα), and the fast is broken immediately after the Divine Liturgy. Easter is immediately followed by Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday.

The Paschal Service consists of Paschal Matins, Hours, and Liturgy, which traditionally begins at midnight of Pascha morning. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.

Easter controversies

Anti-Easter Christians

Some Christian fundamentalists reject nearly all the customs surrounding Easter, believing them to be irrevocably tainted with paganism and idolatry. Others, like the Sabbatarian Church of God groups, claim to adhere to a more primitive form of Christianity, and keep a Christian Passover which lacks most of the practices or symbols associated with Easter and retains more features of the Jewish observance.

Possible pagan influences on Easter traditions

An Easter Bunny An Easter Bunny

In his 'De Temporum Ratione' the Venerable Bede wrote that the month Eostremonat was so named because of a goddess, Eostre, who had formerly been worshipped in that month. In recent years some scholars (Ronald Hutton, P.D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Elizabeth Freeman) have suggested that a lack of supporting documentation for this goddess might indicate that Bede assumed her existence based on the name of the month. Others note that Bede's status as "the Father of English History", having been the author of the first substantial history of England ever written, might make the lack of additional mention for a goddess whose worship had already died out by Bede's time unsurprising. The debate receives considerable attention because the name 'Easter' is derived from Eostremonat, and thus, according to Bede, from the pagan goddess Eostre.

Jakob Grimm took up the question of Eostre in his Deutsche Mythologie of 1835, noting that Ostaramanoth was etymologically related to Eostremonat and writing of various landmarks and customs related to the goddess Ostara in Germany. Again, because of a lack of written documentation, critics suggest that Grimm took Bede's mention of a goddess Eostre at face value and constructed the goddess Ostara around existing Germanic customs which may have arisen independently. Others point to Grimm's stated intent to gather and record oral traditions which might otherwise be lost as explanation for the lack of further documentation. Amongst other traditions, Grimm connected the 'Osterhase' (Easter Bunny) and Easter Eggs to the goddess Ostara/Eostre. He also cites various place names in Germany as being evidence of Ostara, but critics contend that the close etymological relationship between Ostara and the words for 'east' and 'dawn' could mean that these place names referred to either of those two things rather than a goddess.

Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastic History of the English People") contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Pope suggests that converting heathens is easier if they are allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards Christianity instead of to their indigenous gods (whom the Pope refers to as "devils"), "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God". The Pope sanctioned such conversion tactics as biblically acceptable, pointing out that God did much the same thing with the ancient Israelites and their pagan sacrifices. This practice might explain the incorporation of Eostre traditions into the Christian holiday.

However, the giving of eggs at spring festivals was not restricted to Germanic peoples and could be found among the Persians, Romans, Jews and the Armenians. They were a widespread symbol of rebirth and resurrection and thus might have been adopted from any number of sources.

Easter as a Sumerian festival

Some suggest an etymological relationship between Eostre and the Sumerian goddess Ishtar ([2] [3] [4] [5]) and the possibility that aspects of an ancient festival accompanied the name, claiming that the worship of Bel and Astarte was anciently introduced into Britain, and that the hot cross buns of Good Friday and dyed eggs of Easter Sunday figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now.

At best, any connection between Ishtar and Easter is geographically and linguistically distant, and tangential.

According to the Venerable Bede, "Eostre" was the name of a Goddess for whom the fourth month - Eostremonath - was named (De temporum ratione, I, v). But nothing else is actually known about this Goddess. Linguistic analysis suggests that her name is related to the word for "dawn," so it is plausible that she might have been a goddess of the dawn. And Bede claims that the name "Easter" came from the name of the month, not directly from the Goddess herself.

Although there are claims that her cult is the original source for such Easter traditions as the Easter Bunny, there is no evidence for this.

Claiming a connection between Ishtar and Easter also ignores the fact that Easter is called "Passover" in almost every other language in the world. (The only exceptions appear to be the languages of those people who first learned Christianity at the hands of English or other Anglophone missionaries.) Examples of this are the Hebrew Pesach; the Greek Paskha; the Latin Pascha; the Spanish La Pascua; and Scots Gaelic An Casca. The holiday was not called "Easter" until the 8th Century, by which time it had already been in existence for 700 years.

There is the additional problem that the very lands where Ishtar was once known have never been known to use a name like "Easter" for this or any other spring holiday.


Word for "Easter" in various languages

Names related to Eostremonat (Eostre Month)

  • English Easter
  • German Ostern
  • Samoan Eseta (derived from English)

Names derived from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover)

  • Latin Pascha or Festa Paschalia
  • Greek Πάσχα (Paskha)
  • Afrikaans Paasfees
  • Arabic عيد الفصح (ʿĪdu l-Fiṣḥ)
  • Bulgarian Пасха (Paskha)
  • Catalan Pasqua
  • Danish Påske
  • Dutch Pasen
  • Esperanto Pasko
  • Finnish Pääsiäinen
  • French Pâques
  • Icelandic Páskar
  • Indonesian Paskah
  • Irish Cáisc
  • Italian Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German Paisken
  • Norwegian Påske
  • Tagalog (Philippines) Pasko ng Muling Pagkabuhay (literally "the Pasch of the Resurrection")
  • Polish Pascha
  • Portuguese Páscoa
  • Romanian Paşti
  • Russian Пасха (Paskha)
  • Scottish Gaelic Casca
  • Spanish Pascua
  • Swedish Påsk
  • Turkish Paskalya
  • Welsh Pasg

Names used in other languages

  • Armenian Զատիկ (Zatik, literally "resurrection")
  • Belarusian Вялікдзень or Vialikdzen’ (literally "the Great Day")
  • Bulgarian Великден (Velikden, literally "the Great Day")
  • Simplified Chinese: 复活节; Traditional Chinese: 復活節; Pinyin: Fùhuó Jié (literally "Resurrection Festival")
  • Croatian Uskrs (literally "resurrection")
  • Czech Velikonoce (literally "Great Nights" [plural, no singular exists])
  • Estonian Lihavõtted (literally "meat taking")
  • Georgian აღდგომა (Aĝdgoma, literally "rising")
  • Hungarian Húsvét (literally "taking, or buying meat")
  • Japanese 復活祭 (Fukkatsu-sai, literally "resurrection festival") or イースター Īsutā, from English
  • Korean 부활절 (Puhwalchol, literally "Resurrection season")
  • Latvian Lieldienas (literally "the Great Days", no singular exists)
  • Lithuanian Velykos (derived from Slavic languages, no singular exists)
  • Polish Wielkanoc (literally "the Great Night")
  • Romanian Inviere (literally "resurrection")
  • Serbian Ускрс (Uskrs) or Васкрс (Vaskrs, literally "resurrection")
  • Slovak Veľká Noc (literally "the Great Night")
  • Slovenian Velika noč (literally "the Great Night")
  • Tongan (South-pacific) Pekia (literally "death (of a lord)")
  • Ukrainian Великдень (Velykden’, literally "the Great Day") or Паска (Paska)

External links




National traditions

Home | Easter | Easter Traditions | Easter Monday | Easter Triduum | Easter Vigil | Holy Fire | Paschal Greeting | License

About Easter, made by MultiMedia | Free content and software

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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