Why do Easter dates move around and why the Easter Bunny?
With Easter coming this weekend, the research on how the date for Easter is determined proved to be a somewhat complicated project. The short answer is that Easter is on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (Spring). However, it gets more complicated from there. If the first full moon is on a Sunday, the following Sunday is Easter. And there is much more ...
Essentially, Christ’s crucifixion fell during Passover time. The Last Supper was actually the Passover Seder. However, the celebration of Easter, for the first two decades, had an unfixed and random determination using Passover as the basis for when Easter was celebrated.
It was at the First Council of Nicaea, in 325, that it was decreed that all churches would celebrate Easter on the same day and it would be determined independently from the Hebrew calendar.
It took several more decades for the complicated calculations to be completed for establishing the dates for Easter. Churches in the West, both Catholic and Protestant, followed the Gregorian (named after Pope Gregory XIII) calendar. The ecclesiastical full moon comes after March 21, the date that was established as the fixed vernal equinox.
Churches in the East followed the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar. The disparity between the two calendars finds about a four to five day difference. The Orthodox churches also use a fixed date of March 21, but in this century, April 3 is the equivalent date.
Some of the traditions of Easter do have their roots in religious and cultural customs. For example, the Easter egg symbolizes the empty tomb after Christ rose. The Easter lily is a symbol of the resurrection.
The Easter Bunny goes back centuries to the German Lutherans who said the “Easter Hare” would bring Easter Eggs to good boys and girls in baskets also filled with candy and toys. This was first mentioned in a book released in 1682, written by German physician and botanist, Georg Franck von Franckenau, called “About Easter Eggs.”
The Orthodox churches had a custom of fasting from eggs during lent. To preserve their eggs, they would boil them until they could “break the fast”. As part of the feast, they would decorate the eggs. The Germans waylaid the fasting tradition but did color eggs by boiling them with flowers.
These traditions came to the U.S. with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 18th century. There is a lot of ambiguity as to the origin of the Germanic legend of the Easter Bunny and there is no one definition cited as the “real” story.
Other Easter traditions, such as Easter parades and new Easter spring clothes do trace their roots back to the time of Christ as he neared his crucifixion and other cultural traditions.
So if you are feeling a bit silly coloring eggs and hiding Easter baskets for the youngsters, now you know you are part of multicultural and centuries old traditions - not ones made up by the candy makers and card companies!
We will publish the dates for Easter Services in the next blog later this week.