What to Know About the Difference Between Easter and Orthodox Easter

·3 min read

If you celebrated Easter already, you may see and hear about others celebrating the holiday nearly a month later. They're likely celebrating Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated by Orthodox Christians, a segment of Christianity that originates primarily from the countries of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Macedonia, Romania, and Russia.

Easter as it's commonly celebrated in the United States falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox, while Orthodox Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon after Passover. Both holidays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus within the Christian tradition—so why are they celebrated at different times?

It turns out, it can all be attributed to a decision Pope Gregory XIII made in 1582. At that time, much of Europe followed the Julian style calendar, which the pope wanted to change because it ran a few minutes long each day. He implemented the Gregorian calendar (which uses a leap year to offset the extra minutes). The Catholic church uses the Gregorian calendar to determine their holidays, while the Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar—which means they celebrate the same holidays on different days.

Rawf8/Getty Images Red-dyed eggs sit on top of a loaf of Kulich, a traditional Orthodox Easter bread.

When Is Orthodox Easter?

Orthodox Easter is Sunday, May 2, 2021. It is always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Passover, so the date changes from year to year.

How Is Orthodox Easter Celebrated?

Because the two holidays celebrate the same event, the ways in which the holidays are observed are fairly similar. Most observers spend a portion of the day in church, and then gather for a big meal together. The biggest difference between these two traditions is the food: If you grew up celebrating Easter with ham and green beans, the traditional Orthodox Easter menu may surprise you.

Each family celebrates differently (and the meals vary between countries too) but the Greek menu is among the most popular. Roasted lamb is commonly served as the main dish, to represent the symbolism of the lamb within Christianity. Hard-boiled eggs that have been dyed red (to represent the blood of Christ) are also commonly found at an Orthodox Easter meal. When dinner is served, each person gets a red egg; the eggs are cracked against each other around the table and the person with the last uncracked egg is said to have good luck until the next Easter.

In Slavic countries, a sweet bread called Kulich is typically served on Easter. It has a similar flavor to the hot cross buns you might be used to serving but is typically served in one tall cake rather than individual buns. Its commonly served with either a sweet glaze (like hot cross buns) or with nuts on top.

No matter what foods are prepared and served, both forms of Easter celebrations involve celebrating new life with friends and family around the table.