Why Is Easter So Late This Year? Blame the ‘Moveable Feast’

Easter 2019 is this Sunday, April 21. If that seems a lot later to you than we usually celebrate Easter — you’re right! The holiday fell on March 31 in 2018, three full weeks earlier than it does this year.

Why is Easter so late this year, happening a whole month after the beginning of spring? It’s because of a rule that was established almost 1700 years ago in Turkey. The rule* is that Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon that follows the March equinox. Following this rule for establishing the date for observing Easter, the holiday can happen as early as March 22, or as late as April 25.

The moveable feast. Because of its shifting dates, Easter is called “the great moveable feast.” A moveable feast, by the way, is a feast day that happens every year on the same day of the week (sort of like American Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November), but has a date that varies from year to year.

*Un*like American Thanksgiving, the date of the “great moveable feast” of Easter also determines the dates of several other holy feast or fasting days, including:
Ash Wednesday: 46 days before Easter. The first day of the Lenten season.
Shrove Tuesday: 47 days before Easter. This day is celebrated as Pancake Day in the UK and, in several places around the world, notably Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Pentecost: 49 days after Easter.

So, thinking about Easter, and about moveable feasts (literal and liturgical), are you ready to make a feast of your own? Browse through the Easter-themed articles and recipes (including this one about using food-and-spice-based natural dyes to color Easter eggs), for some inspiration and information!

Straying far from the liturgical calendar, even Ernest Hemingway picked up on the term A Moveable Feast, using it for the title of his memoir of life in Paris in the 1920s, taken from this passage: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Photo credits: Moon and red blue haze, Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Natural Easter egg dying, by Luz on Flickr

For extra credit: *The rule establishing the date of Easter was agreed on in 325 A.D. by the Council of Nicaea (modern-day Iznik, Turkey), the first ecumenical council of the Christian church. The rule assumes that the equinox is on March 21 (although, actually, astronomically it can be on March 19, 20, or 21 in our Gregorian calendar, but I digress, lol). There are a few other complicating factors, and formulas for figuring the date of the next full moon after the vernal equinox, explained really nicely on the EarthSky website.