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How is the date for Easter determined?

Easter is about celebrating Jesus' resurrection, so it would stand to reason that the date of Jesus' resurrection should be the date of Easter, right? If it was, how would we figure THAT date? The Gospels (Matthew, Mark Luke, John) in the Bible all make it clear that Jesus' crucifixion happened at the same time as the Jewish Passover (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-15; John 18:28,39; 19:14). All four Gospels also tell us that Jesus came back to life three days later, on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19).

If we were to go by that dating system, technically, Christ's resurrection should be celebrated on the first Sunday following the Jewish Passover meal. Well, unfortunately, the date for Easter each year is not as simple as that to figure out.

The Origins of Determining Easter Celebration Day

The date for Easter is determined by the date of the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (a.k.a. first day of spring; around March 20). The vernal equinox is the day when the Earth's northern hemisphere begins to tilt toward the sun. "Vernal" means "fresh" or "new" (an appropriate adjective for springtime). This method for establishing the date for Easter often results in Easter falling in a weird place on the calendar in relation to Passover. Easter could be observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25, depending on when that first Sunday falls.

If this seems like a rather convoluted way of figuring out a day to celebrate Easter, you would be right. As we look back through church history, we'll find that there's been quite a lot of debate about when the Christian Easter celebration should be observed. (See GotQuestions.org's article on The Origins of Easter if you're interested in a more detailed historical explanation. Or you can read our version, which is sort of a Cliff Notes edition.)

As you probably figured out, the reasoning we use today for figuring out the date for Easter has absolutely nothing to do with the Bible's account of Jesus Christ's resurrection or even when Passover occurs. Why did the old church leaders decide to use such a weird determination system?

One of the common theories goes back to when the Catholic Church "absorbed" certain pagan practices, such as the spring fertility goddess rituals, in an attempt to give Christians something to celebrate during the time when other religions were celebrating for other reasons. But even that explanation is a little sketch. The truth is, the origins of Easter are pretty obscure. The only thing we know for sure is based on biblical facts, regarding the observance of Easter, is that Easter will always be on a Sunday.

What does the Bible say about Easter?

The Bible never mentions Easter, nor does it instruct Christians to set aside a certain day of the year to observe and celebrate Christ's resurrection. Of course, Christ's resurrection is most definitely something worth celebrating (1 Corinthians 15)! We should be thankful for Christ's resurrection every day because it proves everything He said was true. But we don't necessarily need to have one day a year to celebrate His resurrection; we could recognize it at any time. Just like with Christmas, the day we celebrate Christ's resurrection doesn't really matter.

Christians have the freedom to observe the Easter celebration if they wish to, but they are not commanded to do so. The date of Easter is not what's important for us to observe, rather, the fact that Jesus Christ came back to life is what's important.

If you have Christian friends or family who don't observe Easter, that's OK. Don't give them a hard time about it. If you want to celebrate Easter, go ahead and follow the traditional dating system for Easter, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (or just Google it). If you don't want to observe Easter for whatever reason, that's OK, but don't give people a hard time if they DO celebrate Easter. No matter what you or your family decide to do about the Easter holiday, you may make that decision with a clear conscience.

Want to know when Easter is this year? Here's an easy way to figure it out: LMGTFY.

TL;DR

The date for Easter is determined by the date of the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (a.k.a. first day of spring; around March 20). Easter Sunday could be observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25, depending on when that first Sunday falls. The Bible never mentions Easter, nor does it instruct Christians to set aside a certain day of the year in observance/celebration of Christ's resurrection. Christians have the freedom to observe the Easter celebration if they wish to, but they are not commanded to do so. The date of Easter is not what's important for us to observe, rather, the fact that Jesus Christ came back to life is what's important.

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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