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The God Squad: Easter is a tough egg to crack

March 29, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: My wife and I had a discussion last night concerning the different time periods we actually celebrate Easter. Sometimes, Easter is in mid-April, and sometimes in early March. We celebrate the birth of Christ on Dec. 25 every year, yet there's no definitive date to celebrate His death and resurrection. Is this because history has never been able to pinpoint exact dates for these important events in our religious and faith history? I think most Christians would prefer to celebrate both events on specific dates.

— B., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

A: Yours is a valid and fascinating question with a complicated answer. Easter, unlike Christmas, is connected to Judaism in direct ways. Because the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus occurred after Passover, it obviously makes no historical sense to set a fixed date for Easter, which might then occur before Passover some years.

Since the Jewish calendar (and, by the way, the Muslim calendar, as well) is calculated on a lunar basis, Easter had to be connected to the cycles of the moon, as well. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the spring month named Nisan.

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There's a good reason why all religious calendars, from the most ancient, follow a lunar pattern. It's easy to track the monthly phases of the moon, while it's virtually impossible to track the cycles of the sun through the seasons.

Solar calendars did not become normative until astronomical calculations became more advanced and precise. The problem with lunar calendars is that a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar year, so adjustments need to be made for all lunar holidays that are also seasonal holidays so they always fall in the proper season of the year.

Passover and, by extension, Easter, must occur in the spring, and that's why the lunar calendar must be adjusted periodically. Judaism does this by occasionally adding an additional month called Adar in the spring. Islam is unique in that it does not adjust for the shorter lunar year. Ramadan moves in the Gregorian (solar) calendar approximately 11 days every year. The date may also vary from country to country, depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not. One of my favorite Muslim blessings is, "May you be privileged to celebrate Ramadan in every season of the year."

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