Here's How Easter Sunday Is Determined Every Year
Easter Sunday changes dates year-to-year. This year, Easter is on Sunday, April 9, 2023.
How is the Easter date determined? The holiday occurs on the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which welcomes spring in the northern hemisphere.
All of the celebrations leading up to Easter also change dates.
As soon as the weather begins to warm up, our attention turns to Easter. But, unlike many holidays, the date changes each year, so we always find ourselves asking, "what is the date of Easter this year?" Here's everything you need to know about why Easter changes dates, along with some of the holiday's important dates to keep in mind.
If you're looking for the date of Easter 2023 (it falls on Sunday, April 9), you first must know Ash Wednesday's date. Easter Sunday occurs six and a half weeks after Ash Wednesday, which makes up the 40 days of Lent. We've investigated the reasons behind the ever-changing date, which includes the phases of the moon, the vernal equinox, and the Gregorian calendar. You might not have realized just how much goes into how Easter Sunday is determined each year!
How is the Easter date determined every year?
First off, it's important to know that though the exact date of Easter changes each year, there's a definite period in which the day occurs, and that's March 22 through April 25 (in the Gregorian calendar, not the Julian calendar). Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon (the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox, which signifies the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere), according to The Old Farmer's Almanac.
In 2023, the vernal equinox falls on March 20, 2023, making the first full moon after that date April 6 and the following Sunday—April 9—Easter 2023.
When is Easter 2023?
Easter Sunday 2023 falls on April 9. And although the holiday is the main event, there are several important commemorations leading up to the holy day. This year, things kicked off on Wednesday, February 22, when churchgoers headed to their local congregations to observe Ash Wednesday. On this day, priests and pastors smear ashes from the previous year's Palm Sunday palms on the attendees' foreheads. They do this while repeating Genesis 3:19, which says, "...for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. The meaning of Lent is to be "encouraged to find our own method of confronting our sinfulness, remembering our mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation we receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ," according to the United Methodist Church's website. Many people choose to give up something or give themselves to charity during the 40-day-long celebration.
Lent comes to a close during Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday on April 2. Palm Sunday marks Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem where he was was greeted with palm branches, according to the 40 Acts website. Several days later comes Holy Wednesday, which falls on April 5 this year, and this recognizes Judas Iscariot and his plot to betray the savior. The next day—April 6—is Holy Thursday, the anniversary of the Last Supper. Good Friday, on April 7, is celebrated next, and that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday, on April 9, celebrates the day that Jesus rose from the tomb and marks the end of Lent.
Is Easter Always the Third Sunday in April?
No, it does not always fall on the third Sunday in April. It can be as early as March. This year, it's the second Sunday. This is a common misconception: it's possible that people are thinking of the timing of Thanksgiving, which is the third Thursday in November.
More Easter Date Trivia
Q. What is the rarest date for Easter?
A. March 23, according to statistician Jim Frost on his blog Statistics by Jim. He crunched the data on a 2,516-year time span to answer this question!
Q. When is Easter 2024?
A. Someone's a planner! Easter 2024 falls on March 31. (And before you ask, Easter 2025 occurs on April 20.)
Q. When is Orthodox Easter?
A. The Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar (versus the Gregorian calendar), which often means a different date for Easter Sunday, though the calendars do sometimes coincide. This year, Orthodox Easter falls on April 16, 2023.
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