Just When is Easter? Oregon Astronomer Helps
(Portland, Oregon) – The question about “when is Easter” comes up every year – and for good reason. It does change every year. While most major holidays have a set date – like Independence Day, Christmas, and so on – Easter slinks around on the calendar. (Above: Manzanita, on the north Oregon coast, where an Easter egg hunt happens this weekend)
Portland astronomy expert Jim Todd, planetarium manager from OMSI, helps people figure it out, and says it has to do with the Vernal Equinox, the full moon, and Sunday.
It all started nearly 2,000 years ago, Todd said.
In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea, commonly regarded as the first Ecumenical council of the Christian Church, convened in ancient Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) at the request of Constantine I.
“His goal for the council was to restore order in the young religion of Christianity, then beset with internal disagreements and controversy,” Todd said.
That group was instructed to figure out a means for calculating the annual observance of Easter, which at the time coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Above: numerous Easter Egg hunts happen on the Oregon coast this weekend, including Rockaway Beach.
“Attributed to Pope Saint Soter and followed by believers in Alexandria and Rome was the formula which is followed today: Easter is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox,” Todd said. “This neatly avoided following any particular calendar, and staggered both Jewish and Christian holidays.”
So just how did the moon get involved?
Todd said the lunar cycles throughout the year are uneven, not the same number each year. This means that the time of the Passover celebration is a moveable feast during the month of March and April. The council of Nicaea involved the full moon to provide the pilgrims, who traveled to Jerusalem, with a bright night sky in order to assure their safety.
Todd said this year, in 2013, the vernal equinox is on March 20, the time when the sun is directly over the equator. The full moon for March was the 27th which is just after the equinox. The following Sunday is March 31 – making this Sunday Easter for 2013.
“So each year, Easter Sunday is the Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox,” Todd said.
More Oregon coast astronomy images below
Depoe Bay: Cape Foulweather at night.
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