Easter is, of course, the high point of the Christian calendar. Christmas is far better known and much more widely recognised as a Christian festival, perhaps because Christmas is more readily associated with Christianity, but more likely because people get the idea that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
However it is Easter, which is the bigger festival in Christian terms and the more ancient one. You can tell this by the fact that Christmas is based on a particular date (25 December) whilst Easter is based on a more ancient lunar calendar rather than the one we now use, which is one of the reasons that the date of Easter moves around. Easter must fall after the Spring Equinox, thus the the date of Easter can fall on any Sunday between 22 March and 25 April; so this year it was pretty late.
In the Orthodox Church (a part of the church historically rooted in the Ancient Near East and which has a longer history than the Western Roman Catholic Church from which most protestant churches emerged) they date Easter based on an even older Calendar. They use a Julian Calendar rather than a Gregorian Calendar, Julian here being a reference to Julius Caesar who introduced his calendar in 46 BC so these guys go way back.
Our modern calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, was an update of the Julian calendar in 1582. Interestingly, the update was driven primarily because of a concern that the known minor inaccuracies in the Julian calendar meant that over the centuries the date of Easter was becoming more inaccurate.
By 1582 the Julian Calendar (which has 3 too many leap years every 400 years) was calculated to be out of sync with the seasons by 10 days which meant that Easter was falling 10 days too early. Shockingly Easter was occurring before the Spring Equinox! The Gregorian calendar reforms meant reducing the number of leap years so the year 2000 was a leap year but the year 1900 was not. Much more radically it also proposed skipping 10 days in the calendar to get back on track.
That Pope Gregory was Catholic (geddit?) mean that his proposals were ignored at best or actively resisted at worst by Protestant and Orthodox countries but adopted by Catholic countries. Countries rooted in other religious traditions in Asia and Africa, for example, also ignored the Gregorian proposals. So for the next few centuries various countries, even neighbouring ones, had completely different dates. Gradually, however, the Gregorian calendar began to prevail.
In English speaking countries allied to Great Britain the Gregorian calendar was not adopted until 1752, some 170 years after the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in Catholic Countries like Spain and Portugal. By this time the Julian calendar was a further day out of sync so Britain had to add 11 days to their calendar to get back into sync. Thus Wednesday, 2 September 1752, was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752.
In Russia it was adopted even later, in 1917, and only after the October Revolution brought about communist rule. The last European country to adopt it was Greece, in 1923. Even today there remain a few countries that never adopted the Gregorian calendar, notably Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. Neither country is shaped by Western Christianity and each has its own lengthy heritage. I visited Ethiopian in 2009 and was surprised to discover that it was a completely different date in Ethiopia.
However, whilst most countries have adopted the Gregorian Calendar the Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian calendar to calculate its religious festivals. This difference of calendar means Easter can fall for Eastern Orthodox Christians anytime between 4th April and 8th May.
Quite often then, two major sections of the Christian family celebrate their most significant festival at different times. The same thing occurs at Christmas, with the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrating Christmas on Jan 6th just as in Christmas celebrations are concluding in the West. This year, happily both in the Eastern and Western churches Easter falls on the same date, 20 April 2014.
Easter is a day for the celebration of life and God’s triumph over death; a day in which resurrection and hope even in the midst of despair are big themes. A day that was deemed so important that the calendars of most of the countries in the world were changed so that we could get the date of Easter right.
Even among those who are not regular churchgoers, if you are going to go to church at all, Easter and Christmas are the 2 points in the year where many people go to church. All of which begs the question, what to wear on Easter Day?
Easter in the northern hemisphere is often associated with Spring and new life, one of the reasons that we use images like eggs, chicks and bunnies as symbols of Easter
I will be among those going to church on Easter Day, it’s a non negotiable for me, so it needs to be appropriate for that context. I don’t have any particular role in the morning, though I do have a speaking engagement in the evening.
Traditional Christian (liturgical) colours to celebrate Easter are white and gold. They symbolise life, light and celebration. Given that Easter coincides with Spring and is a season of celebration some splashes of colour seem appropriate. However, I think even I draw the line at gold! One could I guess substitute yellow for gold. But not today.
I toyed with a number of possibilities but decide that white was a safer and more flexible option. However, a white shirt is too straightforward. If you are going to wear white for Easter it ought to be a bit more intentional. White trousers? Possible but a bit Miami Vice. You could go whole hog and risk the Saturday Night Live connotations.
In the end I went with white blazer, navy shirt and jeans with navy/white spotted bow tie. It felt sufficiently vivid without being too garish. I hope.
Great way to engage with the ancient Easter declaration: Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Here’s a short video clip to make you smile. Made by my Junior videographer.