It is well known that on Easter we celebrate Jesus' resurrection, but every year it is held on a different date, whereas Jesus' birthday—Christmas—is celebrated on the same day every year. So why is the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection different every year when Christmas is not?

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    If memory serves me, easter is at some time after a particular moon cycle. – Mark Henderson Aug 31 '11 at 9:01

The date of Easter follows similar rules as the date of Passover, and is determined using those rules because of that tradition. (The death of Jesus on that day is significant because of his connection of his death to the sacrifice of the passover lamb.)

In the western church, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the nominal northern-hemisphere vernal equinox. (I call it nominal because it's considered to be on March 21, rather than at the moment of the astronomical equinox.)

In the eastern church, it's based on the old Julian calendar, and so sometimes is on a different date. Hopefully somebody who understands this can contribute.

In Lutheran Christianity, the date chosen for celebrating Easter is the archetypal adiaphoron, or a good example of a thing that doesn't matter. The reformers considered that it was more important to go along with the rest of the Christendom of the time in choosing this date, than it was to somehow get the date "right."

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  • The only thing missing here is the connection to Passover. You mention that they follow similar rules, but their is a much deeper connection that what might be inferred from that – Ray Aug 31 '11 at 11:18
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    If Easter is connected to Passover, then why doesn't it correspond to the week of passover? Some years Easter is before passover, some years it is during passover, some years it is after passover. How are they connected? – user247 Aug 31 '11 at 13:41
  • @Peter Olson, why don't you ask the question? – Ray Sep 1 '11 at 2:28
  • what is lamb (passover lamb)? and why easter follows passover date? and why passover change date? – user275 Sep 2 '11 at 18:55
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    @Templar. Passover doesn't change date. It's always on the 14th of Nissan. It's just on a different calendar (a lunisolar calendar, which doesn't match up neatly with our solar calendar). – TRiG Jun 12 '12 at 14:24

Easter was traditionally a fertility rite in spring among pagan cultures. The name even comes from a pagan goddess. Since fertility is connected to the cycle of the moon, when this festival was converted into the Christian tradition they followed the same lunar observances.

(Connections between fertility and Easter can also be seen in the symbolism of the rabbit, and the eggs. This seems to be widely acknowledged.)

Certainly, later Christian doctrines have established their own reasoning for the tradition, but the Easter festivals predate Christianity.

Christmas being the birth of Jesus coincides with the winter solstice (see Yule), and most ancient cultures had a winter solstice festival. This is the time when the sun begins its return and it's possible that this was adopted for its symbolic significance.

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    Both historically inaccurate and lacking in sources. – Ray Aug 31 '11 at 11:16
  • Revised with added references, Ray. Comments welcome. – Andrew Vit Aug 31 '11 at 11:43
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    This is quite anachronistic--the inclusion of pagan practices in Easter traditions came long after the timing was established. – Ray Aug 31 '11 at 11:56
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    "Christmas being the birth of Jesus coincides with the winter solstice" could be clearer; the choice of date is at best symbolic, but a far more common explanation: it is simply easier for a new religion to associate itself with an existing festival (Saturnalia, Yule) than it is to create a new one. Good marketing. – Marc Gravell Dec 24 '11 at 10:09
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    @AndrewVit, it might interest you to know that only in Germanic languages is the holiday called something like "Easter." In most languages of the world, it's called something akin to the Greek Pascha, which comes from the Hebrew Pesach, which simply means "Passover." The notion that Easter has connections with fertility rites seems to spring from the notion that the term of Easter is said to come from the name of a goddess called Ēostre. But even this is doubtful; see the Wikipedia article on Ēostre for details. – Kyralessa Apr 15 '12 at 23:43