It’s a big deal for non-Christians, too, with many people in the UK getting a four-day long weekend thanks to two national holidays – on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
Why does the date of Easter change every year?
We now use the solar, Gregorian calendar rather than a lunar one, which means the full moon occurs on different dates each year, and therefore so does Easter – it can be any date between 22 March and 25 April.
This year, the full moon peaked on Thursday 6 April – meaning that Easter Sunday is on 9 April. The 2023 spring equinox was on 20 March, its most common date.
Dr Greg Brown, astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said Easter is based on a combination of the seven-day week and the cycle of the phases of the Moon.
“The March equinox is the date when the sun crosses from the southern hemisphere of the sky to the northern hemisphere marking the beginning of spring.
“The day and night of the equinox are of approximately equal length. As neither the calendar year (365 days) nor the cycle of the phases of the Moon (29.5 days) divide evenly by the seven-day week, the date of Easter Sunday can move irregularly by up to a month, from between late March and late April.”
How was the Easter date decided?
The decision on how and when Easter should fall each year was made by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the first major church council.
As the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus happened after Passover, some early Christians decided to celebrate it then – on the 14th of the month of Nisan (from the Assyrian and Hebrew calendars). This correlates with March or April in the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII), which is what we use today.
Other early Christians preferred to celebrate on a Sunday because it is thought Jesus’s tomb was found on this day, according to Brent Landau, a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Texas.
The Council of Nicaea was asked to resolve this. It decided Easter should be after the first full moon following the March equinox.
Why do different churches celebrate Easter on different dates?
Easter dates change between churches because they use different calendars.
Eastern Churches (Greek and Slavic) and Oriental Churches (Syrian, Armenian, Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian) continued using the Julian Calendar, named after Julius Caesar, even after Europe adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582.
“This is why even now Easter is calculated differently by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches to the Catholic and other western Churches,” said theology and religion Professor Emma Loosely, from the University of Exeter.
“Easter is only ever celebrated by all Christians on the relatively rare occasions when the two calendars align,” she added.
Easter last took place on the same day last year for both Christian Churches in 2017, but this will not happen again until 2034.
Why do we have Easter eggs?
The tradition of Easter eggs originated in a Pagan springtime celebration. Eggs symbolise new life for Pagans, and so they were the perfect object for spring.
Over time, Christians adopted the symbolism and took the eggs and their shells to represent Jesus emerging from his tomb on Easter Sunday.
Traditionally, Christians were not allowed to eat eggs in the build up to Easter – otherwise known as Holy Week. So when friends came together to celebrate Easter Sunday, they would gather and exchange eggs with each other.
The egg-gifting became more elaborate and luxurious during the Victorian era, when people would give each other ornately painted cardboard eggs filled with gifts and decorated in satin and ribbons.