Why is Easter so late this year?

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stoneEarly in 2008 I asked Why is Easter so early this year? That year Easter fell on 23rd March, one day later than the earliest possible date according to the current calendar. This year, 2011, it is more than a month later, on 24th April, one day earlier than the latest possible date. It will not fall on that latest date until 2038, and the previous time was 1943. So this may be the latest Easter in my lifetime.

The basic reason for the late Easter is that its date is tied to the phases of the moon. As I wrote in 2008, the dates each year, as recognised by the western churches,

are determined by complex calculations which go back to the 6th century: Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon on or after 21st March, supposed to be the day of the spring equinox.

This year the relevant full moon dates are Saturday 19th March and Monday 18th April. The former was before the spring equinox, so the Easter full moon is on 18th April – and the Easter celebrations have to wait nearly a full week until the following Sunday.

This late Easter is again causing difficulties with school holidays, at least here in the UK. Here in Warrington the holidays are finishing this weekend, and then children are back at school for less than a week before their four day Easter break. But a friend living here who is a teacher in a nearby borough only starts her school holidays today, because that area has chosen to tie its holidays to Easter. That would be very difficult for her if she had children at school in Warrington.

Another undesirable side effect of this late Easter, again in the UK, is that it falls only one week before the May Day bank holiday weekend. This year the situation is made even worse by the extra royal wedding bank holiday on 29th April. This leaves only three working days between two four day breaks. It is hardly surprising that some companies, e.g. Toyota, have taken the opportunity to close down for those three days and take a break for nearly two weeks. That is not a good way to stimulate our struggling economy.

Meanwhile Ekklesia reports that Work continues for a common date for Easter:

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has urged Christians to give this year’s celebration of Easter a clear ecumenical profile and to work for a common date of Easter for the future, noting that this year it falls on the same day 24 April for both eastern and western traditions.

“In a world divided by poverty and violence, it is important that we are one in our witness to the crucified and risen Christ in actions as well as in words,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

As is clear from another Ekklesia article, it seems that the problem is with getting agreement from the Orthodox churches. In principle, it seems, they are happy to move to a common date, although they would prefer a moveable date to a fixed one. But in the politically and religiously volatile environment of eastern Europe it is difficult to get these churches to come to a formal agreement on anything.

We can only hope and pray that eventually churches will agree on a common date which makes sense for everyone – and enjoy our break at the end of this month.

4 thoughts on “Why is Easter so late this year?

  1. I feel the fact Easter floats is the real pain. Especially the year (2000 I think but may have been 1999) when I had to take our elder daughter back to Exeter Uni on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Exeter were very rigid in their term dates – same each year. We got down there OK but it was **** coming home. c 8 hours for the 190 miles back to Watford.

    It has also proved mildly tiresome when it is really early. Whatever the alleged case for setting it according to a position of the moon, personally I would like it fixed, perhaps on the first or second Sunday in April. But will we ever get agreement across the worldwide church.

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