Easter is the holiday that celebrates and commemorates the central event of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death.

Easter is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year. All the Christian movable feasts and the entire liturgical year of worship are arranged around Easter.

Easter is preceded by the season of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance culminating in Holy Week, and followed by a 50-day Easter Season that stretches from Easter to Pentecost.

Name of Easter

The origins of the word "Easter" are not certain, but probably derive from Estre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring {2}. The German word Ostern has the same derivation.

Non-Anglo-Saxon languages follow the Greek term used by the early Christians: pascha, from the Hebrew pesach (Passover).

In Latin, Easter is Festa Paschalia (plural because it is a seven-day feast), which became the basis for the French Pâques, the Italian Pasqua, and the Spanish Pascua. Also related are the Scottish Pask, the Dutch Paschen, the Danish Paaske, and the Swedish Pask. {3}

Date of Easter

The method for determining the date of Easter is complex and has been a matter of controversy in Christian history. Put as simply as possible, the Western churches (Catholic and Protestant) celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

But it is actually a bit more complicated than this. The spring equinox is fixed for this purpose as March 21 and the "full moon" is actually the paschal moon, which is based on 84-year "paschal cycles" established in the sixth century, and rarely corresponds to the astronomical full moon. These complex calculations yield an Easter date of anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

The Eastern churches (Greek, Russian, and other forms of Orthodoxy) use the same calculation, but based on the Julian calendar (on which March 21 is April 3) and a 19-year paschal cycle. Thus the Orthodox Easter sometimes falls on the same day as the western Easter (it did in 2010 and 2011), but the two celebrations can occur as much as five weeks apart.

In the 20th century, discussions began as to a possible worldwide agreement on a consistent date for the celebration of the central event of Christianity. No resolution has yet been reached. {4}