I used to be a catholic before and I never thought to ask any priest why Easter’s date changes every year or is it because most of Catholic member doesn’t care after all. And what’s with the eggs and rabbit/bunny connected to Easter and they called it “Easter Egg”, “Easter Bunny or Easter Rabbit”.
Allow me to share some of the research of Roberto Tiglao of Manila Times.
Easter represents the central dogma of Christianity, which Jesus of Nazareth defied the laws of the universe and biology to resurrect after his crucifixion, complete with the wounds inflicted on him. The Catholic Encyclopaedia describes it as Christendom’s “principal feast.”
Yet one thing about Easter bothered me since my youth. Unlike Jesus’ birthday, his resurrection day—which after all is more important as it made Jesus a god —always changes. Last year for instance it was on April 8. Next year, it will be on April 20. I’ve done a bit of research on it and you wouldn’t believe how the determination of Easter’s date is so complicated and how controversial it has been to this day, that one could write a book on the topic. The explanation though gives us an insight into the nature of Christianity. For starters, going by the biblical accounts, Jesus was crucified during the Jews’ holiest festival, the seven-day Passover. That’s Judaism’s holiest day, which commemorates the “Exodus” episode when God’s angel of death checked out all homes in Egypt to kill all the male first-born, but “passed over” the houses where Jews lived. But since Sunday was the Jesus movement’s Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, the early Christians naturally decided that the Sunday after the Passover would be celebrated as Jesus’ resurrection day. But when do the Jews celebrate Passover? It had been set on the 15th of the Jews’ most important month called Nisan, which corresponds to March-April in our modern (or Gregorian) calendar. The story only starts there, however. Enter Emperor—“St. Constantine”—of the 4th century, who I think really founded Christianity, as we know it, as the ghost of the Roman Empire. Constantine was an anti-Semitic who wanted to totally detach the Jesus movement from Judaism. After all, how could the religion he was sponsoring be founded by a Jew, whose people were nearly wiped out by the Roman empire? Among many other doctrines it established, the Council of Nicaea, made up of the early Christian bishops which Constantine set up, decreed that rather than linked to the Jewish Passover, Easter would be on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. That astronomical event marks the “official” start of spring (summer for us) since due to the shift in the tilt of the earth’s axis in relation to the sun as it revolves around it during the year; daylight on that day starts to get longer than night-time. Today for instance is the first Sunday after the full moon on March 27. Next year the full moon of the spring equinox would be on April 15, so Easter next year would be on the first Sunday after April 20. (For reasons too convoluted to discuss here, the astronomical, or actual full moons, don’t exactly correspond but only approximates by a few days the Church’s “Ecclesiastical Full Moons” which the church pegged in the 16th century to determines when Easter would be for the next 400 years.) So the answer, which would seem unexciting, is that Easter’s dates change since spring’s full moon—which determines when it will be celebrated—changes every year. However, why how the moon looks from earth—that is, its phases—determines when the Messiah’s resurrection is celebrated reflects Christianity’s features and history. Many of Christianity’s tenets are actually regurgitation of ancient myths and religions that circulated in the vast Roman Empire—the virgin birth and the dying/rising God-Man for example. Ancients scheduled their religious festivals on certain days they believed were special based on their observations of the sun’s and the moon’s cyclical positions as well as the transitions to a new season. The first full moon when spring starts was celebrated in most cultures in the northern hemisphere as a metaphor for the renewal of life after the “death” of the long winter. The ancients indeed could celebrate securely through the whole night under the full moon’s light, certainly important to see wolves and tigers early enough. Christianity appropriated this date to represent Jesus’ return to life after his crucifixion, tweaking it just a bit to the first Sunday —its holy day—after that full moon. Thus Christianity managed to piggyback on the festivals of pagan cultures, making it easier to convert them. Surprisingly, the pagan lets-celebrate-Spring origin of Easter has been really obvious because of its name. While “Pascha” in Eastern Orthodox Christianity (such as in Greece and Russia) was and still is the term for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, it became known in the West as “Easter” as early as the 9th century. The term is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre or Ostara. Since she was the goddess of Dawn when night ends, she became naturally also the goddess of the start of spring, when the long night of winter ends. For the ancients in the northern hemisphere dependent on agriculture and hunting wildlife, Eostre ‘s Spring Day was the most important festival. There are those however who question this interpretation. However they don’t disagree that “Easter” is a reference to the start of spring. One scholar claims for example, that the ancient Anglo-Saxon’s March was “Eosturmonath,” which meant “the month of opening” as in buds opening. There are scholars though who claim that Eostre may have descended from the more ancient Mesopotamian (Assyrian and Babylonian) goddess Ishtar—also Astarte—the goddess of fertility and sex. Indeed even Easter’s symbols are those of the goddess Eostre. Decorated eggs have been symbols of life, miraculous for ancients since a bird could emerge from what appears to be just brittle stone. They were the main offerings to Eostre on her festival day. She was believed to have an entourage of rabbits, which then as it is now have been symbols of life, sex and sensuality.
Now you know 🙂