This year Passover is on Saturday, April 11 and Easter falls on Sunday, April 12. The overlap happens occasionally, but sometimes Easter and Passover are nearly a month apart. How come the dates always change?
The dates occur during the same time frame because Jesus had a Passover meal with his disciples, known as Holy Thursday. This happened the day before he was crucified. The day he was nailed to the cross is called Good Friday. Three days after his crucifixion, the Christians believe Jesus rose into heaven. Passover celebrates Jewish people being liberated from slavery in Egypt.
If the holidays happened around the same time, shouldn’t they always overlap? The difference in the dates has to do with the full moon cycle calendars used by the Jewish religion and the Christian faith, as noted by The Atlantic. Passover is supposed to be celebrated during the first full moon in the spring. However, they don’t line up because the Christian and the Jewish festival calendars are different.
The week of Passover always starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, The Atlantic wrote. The Hebrew months are coordinated with the cycle of the moon, so the 15th day of Nisan is always a full moon.
Christians used the same method to decide their holiday until 325 a.d. While the Hebrews use a fixed calendar based on a lunar schedule, the Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This is called the paschal moon. The earliest Easter can take place is Sunday, March 22 and the latest is Sunday, April 25, Global News noted.
Since the Jewish faith goes by the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and the Christian faith celebrates Easter the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring, the dates don’t always match up because they could be determining the date of their holidays by different moons.
How Does The Hebrew Calendar Work?
The Hebrew calendar uses fixed lunar months. There are about 29 or 30 days in each lunar calendar month. That means at the end of the year, it’s 11 days short of 365 days, which makes up the solar year.
To keep Passover in spring, the Hebrew calendar occasionally adds another month so it’s always celebrated during the same season.
Thousand of years ago, Rabbis used to make the decision about whether or not to add another month before Passover like the groundhog on Groundhog Day, the Atlantic wrote. In the month Adar, if they thought it was too cold to hold Passover, they would add another month, and call it Adar II. But if it was warm enough to feel like spring, they would start the month of Nisan.
“It works out so that over the course of 19 years, that comes out almost to the length of the solar years, ” Benjamin Dreyfus, a professor of physics at George Mason University, told The Atlantic in 2019. “But it doesn’t work perfectly. The Jewish calendar drifts about one day later every 200 years, and so far there isn’t any mechanism to correct that.”
Why Isn’t Easter on a Fixed Day Like Christmas?
It’s been proposed for years that Easter should be celebrated on a specific date, like the second or third Sunday in April. But opponents don’t want Easter to stray too far away from when Passover is observed, Global News reported.
“The Christian Easter is hard-wired to Judaism and the Festival of Passover,” Michael Sadgrove, a retired Anglican clergyman, wrote in a 2016 blog post. “This close relationship between the Jewish and Christian calendars is a vital link between our two faith traditions.”
“Our two faiths are uniquely held together by scripture, history, covenant, and also by our common observance of time,” Sadgrove, who is a Christian with a Jewish upbringing, added. “It would be a bad mistake to weaken the calendrical and liturgical threads that bind us together.”
“Easter, with its idiosyncratic and rather wonderful variation of date, compels us to notice it and adjust our lives around it. It’s that way round. I’m just not persuaded by arguments from convenience. However, as I said, I’m all for worldwide Christianity agreeing on a matter that shouldn’t divide us. I’d have thought that nowadays there was sufficient consensus about the calendar to achieve this. So by all means, let an ecumenical conversation happen. But please don’t let’s give up on such a long and rich paschal tradition too quickly.”