Easter is eagerly anticipated by everyone from schoolchildren to workers counting the days to the first bank holidays of the year. However, the date changes each year, meaning preparation is key for anybody planning a family break or a long weekend away. Here’s when Easter falls in 2019, and how the date of Easter Sunday is calculated.
When is Easter 2019?
This year Easter Sunday falls on 21 April, the latest date since 2011 when it was on 24 April. Because of this, in many regions the school holidays will finish with the Easter bank holiday on Monday, 22 April.
The holiday can take place on any date between 22 March and 25 April, with Easter 2018 falling on 1 April.
How do we work out when Easter will be in any year?
The date of Easter is calculated from the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring equinox in March. “The reason for this is that Easter must occur after the biblical festival of Passover, on the full moon, when Jesus was crucified,” said Professor Sacha Stern, head of the Hebrew and Jewish Studies department at University College London.
Next year the equinox will take place on its usual date of 20 March, with the next full moon on 19 April – the Friday before Easter Sunday. 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. Easter can take place on any date between 22 March and 25 April.
Why is Easter on a different date each year?
The predominant reason why Easter falls on a different date each year is because we now use the solar, Gregorian calendar rather than a lunar one. This means the full moon occurs on different dates each year, and therefore so does Easter.
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.”
Why do different churches celebrate Easter on different days?
It’s down to using 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 took place on the same day last year for both Christian Churches, but this will not happen again until 2034.
The differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars create different dates for Easter
Why did the Council of Nicaea need to intervene?
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.
Will Easter ever be unified for all Christian Churches?
Maybe. At least, it’s broadly what the Churches would like. Two years ago Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was in talks with other Christian leaders to determine a fixed date. However, Prof Loosely pointed out: “Every time there is friction between the different churches, the discussions are shelved. “At the moment I think it is highly unlikely there is a solution in sight because the Syrian Orthodox Church… is naturally preoccupied with the Syrian civil war.
The Copts have their own problems dealing with sectarian attacks since the Arab Spring, and the Eastern Orthodox have become increasingly hardline and nationalistic in the last year and would see concessions over Easter as capitulating to western interests. “They won’t even talk to each other due to Russian occupation of parts of Georgia. At the moment it is impossible to get all the parties around one table.”