Robert Odell, Jr. likes to explore and examine the many mysteries of our world and universe.
A Unique Calculation
Often falling around the same time as the Jewish Passover, the day to celebrate Easter is determined very uniquely.
Many holidays fall on the same calendar day every year regardless of the day of the week.
- Christmas is December 25.
- Independence Day is July 4.
- New Year's Day is January 1.
Some holidays follow specific rules to ensure they fall on the same day of the week regardless of the calendar year.
- Memorial Day occurs the last Monday in May.
- Labor Day is the first Monday in September.
- Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November.
Easter does not follow either of these practices. Easter has a unique formula for calculating the holiday. The calculations go back over 2,000 years when calendars were different, and most people could not read.
The most prevalent calendars used by modern society are the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar. Unlike the wall and digital calendars used in the 20th and 21st centuries, scribes displayed calendars on rolled-up parchment in antiquity. Calculated by astronomical traditions, Easter can be as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. After the first full moon, Easter falls on the first Sunday, after the first day of spring. In 2021, for example, the first day of Spring was March 20. The first full moon afterward was March 28. That means that April 4 was the 2021 day for Easter.
Other Holidays Depend on Easter
Eleven other Christian holiday celebrations depend on the calculation of Easter.
- Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter)
- Palm Sunday (1 week before Easter)
- Maundy Thursday (3 days before Easter)
- Good Friday (2 days before Easter)
- Easter Saturday (1 day before Easter)
- Easter Monday (1 day after Easter)
- Ascension Day (39 days after Easter)
- Whit Sunday / Pentecost (49 days after Easter)
- Whit Monday (50 days after Easter)
- Trinity Sunday (56 days after Easter)
- Corpus Christi (60 days after Easter)
1. Ash Wednesday (46 Days Before Easter)
"Ash Wednesday" is a day of marking believers foreheads with blessed ashes as a sign of repentance and humility. Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday. Many Christians practice fasting, abstinence, and repentance during that time to commemorate Christ's fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church, it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays. Self-examination and repentance are characteristics of Lent.
According to the Christian scripture, this 40-day period of abstinence recalls Moses, Elijah, and Jesus's fasts, all of which lasted for 40 days. It originally began in the western church on a Sunday. However, Pope Gregory I moved the beginning of Lent four days ahead in the late sixth century because Sundays were feast days.
The ashes used by priests on Ash Wednesday usually come from burned palm leaves blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday. They symbolize death, mortality, and sorrow for sin. Ashes, marked in the form of a cross on foreheads, symbolize the forgiveness of sins through Jesus' death and resurrection.
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2. Palm Sunday (1 week before Easter)
Palm Sunday is the week before Easter and the start of the Christian Holy Week. It commemorates events that occurred during the last days of the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew 21 of The Bible indicates that, during the Jewish Passover, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt (donkey) that another human had not ridden. As a result of the many miracles he had performed, Jesus received a hero's welcome as he entered the city.
Regarding Jesus as the leader destined to deliver them from the domination of the Roman Empire, the people spread palm leaves, a traditional symbol of victory, throughout the streets before him. The palm branch symbolizes an overpowering of the flesh and the world and is a sign of joy and triumph. Some European countries use Willow branches instead of palm branches.
3. Maundy Thursday (3 days before Easter)
Maundy Thursday is a Christian Holy Week commemoration of the Eucharist. From the Greek word for Thanksgiving, the term Eucharist refers to the Christian ceremony of the Last Supper. Consecrating and consuming bread and wine during the ceremony reflects on the last meal Jesus and his disciples shared in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. The Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed, also marks the practice of ceremonial foot-washing to imitate Jesus. He washed his disciples' feet before the Last Supper as a sign and example of humility and love.
"Maundy" derivs from the Latin based word mandatum (or mandatum novum). It alludes to the English word "commandment." The term "a new mandate" also comes from "maundy." Maundy reflects on the words of Jesus after he washed his disciple's feet. He instructed them with a new commandment – to love one another as he loved them.
4. Good Friday (2 days before Easter)
Good Friday is the day that remembers Jesus' death on the cross. Some hold that Good Friday comes from the phrase "God's Friday." Others accept that the word "good" represents that which is "holy." As a whole, Christians meditate on the thought that the greatest act of loved ever accomplished was the unimaginable atrocities endured by Christ on that day to redeem humanity. Some sources date Good Friday celebrations to 100 CE making it one of the oldest Christian Holidays. Other names for Good Friday include:
- Great Friday
- Black Friday
- Sorrowful Friday
- Long Friday
The most prominent representation that points to how Jesus met his death is the cross (crucifix).
Other symbols used on Good Friday include:
- Black Cloths (used as a cross covering)
- Statues (used to signify mourning)
5. Holy Saturday (1 day before Easter)
Holy Saturday, also called Easter Saturday, represents the day after the crucifixion of Christ. Often referred to as the Vigil of Easter, Holy Saturday, considered the last day of the week, ends the Lent season. The followers of Jesus are said to have spent the day waiting and reflecting on their mission, calling, and situation.
Holy Saturday also signals the day that Roman governor Pontius Pilate instructed guards to be posted at the tomb of Jesus. Pilate was attempting to prevent the disciples from removing the body of Jesus and then claim that Christ rose from the grave.
Other names for Holy Saturday (Easter Saturday) include:
- Great Saturday
- Grand Saturday
- Angelic Night
- Great Sabbath
- Hallelujah Saturday
- Saturday of the Gloria
- Black Saturday
- Easter Eve
- Joyous Saturday
- The Saturday of Light
- Mega Sabbatun
The early Christian church used Holy Saturday for fasting and baptisms. The tradition of baptizing on Holy Saturday endured through centuries to modern times.
6. Easter Monday (1 day after Easter)
Many people in antiquity considered Monday to be unlucky. Today, some people regard Easter Monday, the day after Easter, as a bad luck day.
Different cultures throughout the world celebrate the day after Easter Sunday in different ways. The day is not considered bad luck or a holiday in some nations and is a holiday in other countries. Some think of Easter Monday as a solemn remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ. In contrast, others celebrate the day with gleeful activities like Easter egg-rolling contests. Traditionally, the rolling of an Easter egg points to the rolling of the stone from the tomb of Christ.
Other names for Easter Monday include:
- Bloody Monday
- Bright Monday
- Renewal Monday
- The Day of the Easter Egg Bundle
- The Day of the Feasts (in Ireland)
- Wet Monday or Smigus Dynagus (in Poland)
- White Monday (in Greece)
7. Ascension Day (39 days after Easter)
Dating to 68 CE, Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian holidays. The Bible indicates that Christ instructed and interacted with his disciples several times within the 40 days after his resurrection. After going to the Mount of Olives, the disciples of Christ watched as they saw Jesus ascend to heaven. Occurring ten days before Pentecost, Ascension Day flags the end of the Easter season.
Traditionally observed on a Thursday, thirty-nine days after Easter Sunday, some denominations have moved Ascension Day to the following Sunday.
Other names for Ascension Day include:
- Ascension Thursday
- Holy Thursday
- Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ
8. Whit Sunday / Pentecost (49 days after Easter)
Whit Sunday celebrates the time, traditionally forty-nine days after Easter Sunday, when the disciples were praying. After they prayed, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. God's Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability, "gift of tongues," to instantly speak fluently in other languages. At once, the disciples started proclaiming and preaching Jesus Christ to Jewish people from different parts of the world in their dialects.
Referred to as the day of Pentecost, Whit Sunday is a commemoration of the day the Holy Spirit's power gave birth to the Christian Church.
Symbols for Whit Sunday include:
- The Breath of God
- The Dove
9. Whit Monday (50 days after Easter)
Adopting the name from Whit Sunday, Whit Monday occurs the day after Pentecost. Formally a significant celebration in Pennsylvania Dutch, United States, Whit Monday was called the "Dutch Fourth of July." In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from the mid-eighteen hundreds to the end of the Civil War, citizens would eat, drink, and be merry on Whit Monday.
As with Whit Sunday, Whit Monday also celebrates the day the Holy Spirit's power gave birth to the Christian Church. The symbols for Whit Sunday are the same ones used for Whit Monday.
10. Trinity Sunday (56 days after Easter)
Instituted in 828 CE by Pope Gregory IX, Trinity Sunday is the only significant Christian holiday that celebrates a church doctrine and not a sacred historical occasion. Falling on the Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday commemorates the belief in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The Christian Trinity doctrine states that God is one God but three co-eternal, consubstantial persons.
Officially referred to as "The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity," the symbols for Trinity Sunday include but are not limited to:
- Basket and bread (with bread containing cross marks)
- The Number Three
- The Triangle (usually an equilateral triangle)
- The Triquetra (three interconnected ovals)
11. Corpus Christi (60 days after Easter)
Corpus Christi honors the Eucharist (bread and wine Jesus shared with his disciples). Corpus Christi is a Latin term referring to the body of Christ. It is mainly observed the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Some countries celebrate Corpus Christy the Sunday after Holy Trinity. In the calendar of many churches but primarily celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, the event points to the Last Supper that Christ and his disciples shared before the crucifixion.
Easter Date Reform
Many organizations have suggested reforms for the calculation of the Easter date. As of this writing, the implementation of those suggestions remains undetermined.
Ascension Day - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/ascension-day
Calculating the Easter date. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/determining-easter-date.html
Carnival / Ash Wednesday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/carnival-wednesday
Corpus Christi - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/corpus-christi
Easter Monday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/easter-monday
Good Friday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/good-friday
Holy Saturday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/holy-saturday
MAUNDY THURSDAY – Saint David's in the Pines. https://www.saintdavidsinthepines.org/2020/04/09/maundy-thursday/
Palm Sunday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/palm-sunday
Passover vs. Easter Example | Graduateway. https://graduateway.com/passover-vs-easter/Trinity -
Shennan, R. (2021, April 5). Everything you need to know about Easter Monday - and why it's not a bank holiday in Scotland. The Scotsman. https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/family-and-parenting/easter-monday-2021-why-we-observe-easter-monday-is-the-date-a-bank-holiday-in-scotland-2537177.
The Religion Teacher. (2012, March 04). How is the date of Easter determined? Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3M5IaR2MkZ4
Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/trinity
Trinity - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/trinity
Whit Monday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/whit-monday
Whit Sunday - Time and Date. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/whit-sunday
Why is Good Friday called Good Friday? - 5Factum. https://5factum.com/why-is-good-friday-called-good-friday/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Robert Odell Jr
Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on May 21, 2021:
I appreciate your comments. Thank you for reading.
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on May 19, 2021:
This is a pretty interesting read. Thank you.