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Why and When is Easter?
April 21, 2014 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Easter is the most famous movable feast in our calendar. Its date appears to change unpredictably from year to year, and different branches of Christianity disagree on when exactly it should be marked. In some years, like 2014, western Christians and the Eastern churches (such as the Greek and Russian communities) celebrate Easter on the same Sunday – but that is not always the case. [via BBC]
posted by marienbad (84 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a Christian there is really so much that is so bizarre, fascinating, amazing, and institutionally embarrassing about the celebration of Easter that it is really almost disappointing that modern conversations about it are dominated by this ridiculous infographic thing started by the The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science's facebook page. Most languages adapt the word פסח Pesach “Passover” as the term for Easter/Passover, it is only German and English that adopted what had previously just been the local month name, making this folk etymology more than a bit absurd. As the article notes, the timing also comes directly from the Jewish celebration of passover, and the celebration dates to long before Constantine (who didn't speak English) when Christians had to worry about managing societies rather than survival. Incidentally, Ishtar's animal symbol was the lion, like on the famous gates, not the hare.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:08 AM on April 21 [25 favorites]


J R Stockton's website has extensive detail on this including algorithms for calculating the date of Gregorian and Julian Easter Sunday.

Easter is an Anniversary. It is like a birthday, which commemorates after the passage of each full cycle of the seasons using an interval of 365 or 366 days matching a solar calendar. The day of the Crucifixion was closely associated both with the Jewish luni-solar calendar and with the day of the week, but the commemoration date needed to be calculated on the current civil (Julian, then Gregorian) calendar. The Easter Tables and Rules have been chosen to be such that the commemoration would occur on a day appropriately representative of the Jewish date of the original event.

As for birthdays, the choice of the exact Rules was governed by astronomical data; but in each case it is the Rules themselves which are definitive, not the astronomy. Like the rules of the secular calendar, the Julian and Gregorian Easter Rules are immutable and perpetual. They are applicable for all time both forwards and, because their results are cyclic, they can be extrapolated backwards (proleptically) as well. Those Rules cannot be changed; they can only be superseded.

The Actual Rule for a given year has varied. It could not possibly have existed until after the Resurrection; it did exist in various forms from perhaps a few decades after that; in principle it took the Julian form in AD 325, and changed to the Gregorian form in 1582...1752...


The Russian Orthodox Church continues to use the old (pre revolution) Julian calendar, so they also calculate Easter using the Julian algorithm.
posted by Lanark at 3:24 AM on April 21


All Orthodox churches share the same Easter (except in Finland because they are required to follow the Catholic date), not just the Russians. The old calendar and new calendar dates for the other feasts and fasts of the church year vary so Christmas might be two weeks apart but Easter/Pascha is the same.

Best is when it falls just after the Catholic/Protestants, and we get all the post-Easter sale chocolates!
posted by viggorlijah at 4:26 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb: As a Christian there is really so much that is so bizarre, fascinating, amazing, and institutionally embarrassing about the celebration of Easter that it is really almost disappointing that modern conversations about it are dominated by this ridiculous infographic thing started by the The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science's facebook page.

As an atheist, it's embarrassing and annoying when fellow atheists wrap themselves in the flags of reason and science then go about promoting wrongth. I mean, seriously, they could have glanced at any of the related Wikipedia pages and seen that this was a complete falsehood. For the record, the word Easter comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon month Ēastermōnaþ, which was in turn named after a Germanic goddess named Ēostre.

The Easter Bunny is a very late tradition that started among German Lutherans in fairly recent times (certainly post-Reformation) and dyed Easter Eggs go back forever in Christianity (originally dyed using onion skins). And chocolate because who the hell doesn't like an excuse to eat chocolate?

posted by Kattullus at 4:53 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


First Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, motherfucker! Totally predictable. And reasonable good at matching Easter up to the luni-solar Jewish calendar's dates for Passover.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:59 AM on April 21 [18 favorites]


Christians became real experts in the science of calculating the date of Easter year by year, known as ‘computus’. It’s no exaggeration to say that Easter played a key role in keeping maths and astronomy alive during the early middle ages.

I read a book on the history of calendars and timekeeping -- unfortunately I don't recall the title. It went into some detail about this, but the whole reason behind it was that the Catholic Church was embarrassed to have to go to Jewish authorities to figure out when Easter was supposed to be.
posted by Foosnark at 5:08 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


"...the whole reason behind it was that the Catholic Church was embarrassed to have to go to Jewish authorities to figure out when Easter was supposed to be."

Imagine that now;

twitter.com/CofE @HighgateSynagogue unsure of date of Easter, pls advise. #WhenIsEaster, #JesusIsRisen.
posted by marienbad at 5:39 AM on April 21 [14 favorites]


First Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, motherfucker! Totally predictable.

Especially when the church decrees that the vernal equinox will always be on March 21st, even though it's usually on the 20th, resulting in the occasional occurrence of everyone being thoroughly off (see 2019).
posted by Etrigan at 5:40 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Blasdelb: "Incidentally, Ishtar's animal symbol was the lion, like on the famous gates, not the hare."

And, people will notice if they've ever left the U.S./U.K., or had a non-Hallmarked-up holiday, that Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) symbols and traditions vary considerably! Eggs probably come Eastern Europe as symbols of new life; in some wood-poor places around the Mediterranean, they gather scrap wood to burn for Easter fires (Easter fires in general are popular in the Mediterranean area as symbols of new life); in France and the Netherlands, bells are popular Easter symbols as the church bells are silenced on Good Friday and Holy Saturday when Jesus is in the tomb, and then ring again on Easter; in big sheep-keeping countries people eat Easter lamb (which is kinda creepy when you think about it), but in many other parts of the world, people eat Easter fish -- which is also Jesusy, what with the loaves and fishes, and the fishers of men, and whatnot.

(The Christmas fir trees and holly and so on we associate with Christmas largely come from Northern European countries, as Catholic Churches (and most Protestants, save a few ultra-reformed) must have some kind of "live" (i.e., recently cut) greenery/plant decorating the altar area to symbolize new life in God, which is attested in various documents going back to at least the 200s (liturgical instructions, tourist accounts of popping around the Mediterranean looking at stuff). In the dead of winter in Northern Europe, you're sorta limited to evergreens. But in Southern Europe, Christmas lilies were much more popular. The Anglo-American culture machine -- Hallmark, Hollywood -- sells Anglo-American customs, so everyone gets trees!)

OF COURSE these sorts of symbols also appear in other religions, and are borrowed around regionally. One of the first things a student of liturgy learns is that (just about) EVERYONE IN THE WORLD uses fire and smoke to symbolize prayers rising up to a deity. EVERYONE uses water to symbolize spiritual cleansing. EVERYONE uses plants to symbolize new life. Eggs, milk, bread, meat, wind, barren earth/rocks, mountains, seas, all popular, all often with similar meanings. Because religions mostly answer the same sorts of questions (life, death, morality, afterlife), so they mostly are looking to symbolize the same kinds of things. Humans gonna human, yo. It's much more shocking and strange when a religion manages to keep itself (relatively) "pure" of outside influences, which is typically accomplished by the sort of extreme asceticism that rejects all symbolism entirely, which is one reason extreme religious asceticism is often one of the reactions you see to increased trade or new immigration. But it's hard to make it last, humans like to decorate things, with art or stories or silly rituals, and you usually have to be either really repressive, or become a small rump of true believers. (You also have to erase the history of the religion itself -- burning libraries helps -- so you can get rid of evidence of prior borrowing to get to the "pure" state, and deny any contingent historical development in order to claim absolute ideological purity given by God directly. But annoying academics are always poking around trying to research things anyway.)

Part of my masters' thesis (in liturgy) was about how in the absence of appropriately symbolic and resonant cultural or religious rituals, people start inventing them to fill the holes (because humans gonna human), so you end up with dumb stuff like people drinking themselves stupid on their 21st birthdays, because American society has no significant ritual to mark the transition to adulthood. I also suspect the dramatic escalation in wedding rituals (bachelor parties, showers, engagement parties, weddings, receptions, wedding breakfasts, wedding weekends) is due not just to conspicuous consumption but also to the dramatic gap between American understandings of marriage and religious understandings of marriage (along with declining religiosity generally), which renders the religious ceremonies not very resonant or complete for the majority of Americans getting married. So they unconsciously fill the gaps with what they see in the media.

This has been your friendly digression into Things Only Loosely Related to the Topic but That I Like to Talk About and Don't Get Many Chances to Discuss.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 AM on April 21 [121 favorites]


The big Easter traditions around here are lamb on a spit (which I fully endorse) and also Easter firecrackers, because Jesus was all about improvised explosive mayhem.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:58 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Easter would be a much more thrilling holiday if we included lions. The running of the lions would be a real show-stopper, and checking to see if lions would really lie down with lambs would beat the crap out of Groundhog Day.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:12 AM on April 21 [9 favorites]


in big sheep-keeping countries people eat Easter lamb (which is kinda creepy when you think about it)

Important lesson learned last year: do not make a red velvet lamb cake. It's a shortcut to creepiness of epic proportions.

It's kind of weird how much Easter traditions vary even among my relatives. My parents were firmly lamb-on-Easter people, but my dad's cousin (who counts as a close relative) serves ham and I'm always thinking "Who the heck eats ham on Easter?" Facebook tells me a different cousin cooked turkey (and lamb) yesterday. Turkey?! I had dinner Saturday night with some, er, third cousins* and there was a lengthy discussion of calzone, which is canonical for them and my dad's cousin, but is not something I would notice was missing from Easter. (Well, okay, this week I might be missing the fact I get to take like half of a vegetarian one home to eat for lunch.)

*As was eventually established after phoning their mother. My dad's family are simultaneously people who instruct you to meet up with random cousins and people who aren't very good at talking to each other, so I have no idea who most of these people are.
posted by hoyland at 6:15 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Lions, firecrackers-I think we need a MeFi Easter meetup next year!
posted by TedW at 6:16 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


checking to see if lions would really lie down with lambs would beat the crap out of Groundhog Day.

My wife has this superstition about assuming that Easter will happen during Lent, because obviously one of these years Jesus is going to die and stay dead. The result is that she talks about it like it's Groundhog Day and there's a chance we might have to cancel our Easter brunch because Jesus saw his shadow and now we've got six more weeks of Lent.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:18 AM on April 21 [21 favorites]


We are very much a lamb on Easter family, because my mother grew up eating a fair amount of lamb/mutton during WWII as it was not rationed like other meats.
posted by TedW at 6:19 AM on April 21


My married household is a lamb on Easter family because that's what my wife wants, but being a Southerner I'm naturally in the ham on Easter camp. I'm technically in the "ham on every day of the year it is possible to eat ham" camp, but that includes Easter. I make lamb and I enjoy it, but I wish we had enough people to justify making both one year.

Of course, we'd need about three more people than usual to justify the amount of food we have already.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:23 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


And chocolate because who the hell doesn't like an excuse to eat chocolate?

And kids eat chocolate eggs, because of the color of the chocolate, and the color of the... wood on the cross. Well, you tell me!
posted by solotoro at 6:27 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Jews get supersaturated with Christmas, so, weird though the holiday may be, we get it. Easter, in the meanwhile, hasn't become a folk holiday in the way Christmas has, and so we only get glimpses of what our neighbors up, and I can tell you, from the outside, it is deeply perplexing. The eggs are pretty, though.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:31 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


The big Easter traditions around here are lamb on a spit (which I fully endorse) and also Easter firecrackers, because Jesus was all about improvised explosive mayhem.

I live close to a sizable greek population down the road in Tarpon Springs and living through Greek Easter is something like what it must have been like to live in Beirut in the early 80's. It's gotten so bad with Easter bombs that the local Greek Orthodox church has asked for it to stop. And don't get me started on stumbling upon a lamb's head in my greek friend's freezer when I was a kid.
posted by photoslob at 6:35 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Bunny's comment reminds me -- I saw a "JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON" sign a couple of weeks ago and thought, Damn, dude, clean up your yard since Christmas why dontcha. It only hit me over the weekend that he was referring to Easter, which is not a season that I thought really needed re-Jesusing.
posted by Etrigan at 6:37 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


As a minister, Easter in my family represents the capstone of a billion-hour work-week that annually makes me want to crawl into the tomb and pull the stone over the entrance.
My blessed siblings regularly organize the "adult Easter Egg hunt" which features large plastic eggs filled with lots of little bottles of booze. Today is Holy Couch Monday, a most sacred and auspicious day.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:42 AM on April 21 [41 favorites]


> dyed Easter Eggs go back forever in Christianity (originally dyed using onion skins)

Huevos haminados are a delicious traditional Sephardic thing!
posted by Westringia F. at 6:49 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


My wife has this superstition about assuming that Easter will happen during Lent, because obviously one of these years Jesus is going to die and stay dead. The result is that she talks about it like it's Groundhog Day and there's a chance we might have to cancel our Easter brunch because Jesus saw his shadow and now we've got six more weeks of Lent.

This is perfectly reasonable; I have faith that Jesus will rise, but I don't KNOW. If I knew, I wouldn't have to have faith, in the same way I don't have faith in, like, a table or whatever, but for me, in order for my faith to have meaning, there has to be the possibility of doubt or failure. In the dark of Lent, when we foresee suffering and deprive ourselves, I have to struggle with my faith. I have to feel like, maybe, it's not going to happen and there isn't going to be a miracle and we aren't going to be saved. I really have to go through a spiritual nadir where I question my faith to make sure that I still have it; in order to earn the joy of Easter (and the ridiculous amount of food I make) I have to go through that time of uncertainty and suffering that I won't feel if I know for a fact that salvation is coming.

Every year I go through a period where I don't KNOW that Easter will come but I try to have faith that it will happen.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:51 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Uncle Panos will explain how Easter is done properly. I'm not entirely certain this is funny to people who have not done a Greek Easter, but it makes me cry with laughter. With leh-mon!
posted by viggorlijah at 6:55 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Ham and lamb is my jam.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:56 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Of course, if we do make Easter a lion-themed holiday, we will need bull-, eagle-, and man-themed holidays as well, just for completeness.

While Christmas is the obvious choice for a bull-themed holiday, fears of a resurgent Mithra cult might quash that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:57 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


As a Christian there is really so much that is so bizarre, fascinating, amazing, and institutionally embarrassing about the celebration of Easter that it is really almost disappointing that modern conversations about it are dominated by this ridiculous infographic thing started by the The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science's facebook page. Most languages adapt the word פסח Pesach “Passover” as the term for Easter/Passover, it is only German and English that adopted what had previously just been the local month name, making this folk etymology more than a bit absurd. As the article notes, the timing also comes directly from the Jewish celebration of passover, and the celebration dates to long before Constantine (who didn't speak English) when Christians had to worry about managing societies rather than survival. Incidentally, Ishtar's animal symbol was the lion, like on the famous gates, not the hare.

I'm unfamiliar with the controversy over the Facebook page, but the connection between Ishtar and Easter is probably there, it just isn't straightforward. It is such a long and broken story that it might be best to start here. There was once a major cult around Attis and Cybele, whose ritual in March fits Easter. It led to a major schism at times when the early Christian church was deciding the issue because the passover date was not always accepted by people familiar with Attis, which was already in Gaul.
posted by Brian B. at 6:58 AM on April 21


the passover date was not always accepted by people familiar with Attis, which was already in Gaul.

Or at least most of him was.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Or at least most of him was.

Which is where the tradition of the Easter huevos hunt comes from.
posted by TedW at 7:09 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I found myself fixing a particularly unpleasant problem with a particularly hairy project on Easter morning, so I offer you a special neologism.

Pilate Project: one which you are eager to wash your hands of with haste.
posted by wotsac at 7:17 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


While Christmas is the obvious choice for a bull-themed holiday, fears of a resurgent Mithra cult might quash that.


Hey! Sol Invictus is the reason for the season!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:18 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Which is where the tradition of the Easter huevos hunt comes from.

It isn't as weird as it sounds, and fits the Osiris myth, where they had to reconstruct his scattered and dismembered body to allow resurrection. Of course, people have been gathering eggs in Spring forever.
posted by Brian B. at 7:19 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


For the record, the word Easter comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon month Ēastermōnaþ, which was in turn named after a Germanic goddess named Ēostre.

...whose moniker is derived from a primal Indo-Germanic fertility goddess whose name has many cognates, including Ishtar.
posted by Renoroc at 7:22 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


"It led to a major schism at times when the early Christian church was deciding the issue because the passover date was not always accepted by people familiar with Attis, which was already in Gaul."
The Quartodeciman controversy had absolutely nothing to do with pre-Christian gods, and if anything is actually a lot more embarrassing than that. At its heart it related to how the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John fundamentally disagree about the placement of Easter in relation to passover, both cannot be right, and early Christians disagreed about which one should be used. John 19 explicitly states three times in verses 19, 31 and 42 that Jesus was executed on the day of preparation before Passover, and thus passover passed without Jesus. However, the other three (synoptic) gospels are very clear about how the last supper was passover with Jesus still alive and presiding and how Jesus was arrested that night and crucified the next day. With the common agreement that Jesus was dead for three days, that also shifts the date of the resurrection in relation to known date of passover, which is a really big problem for people who maintain that both biblical texts are necessarily both inerrant and infallible.

There are good reasons to consider the synoptic accounting that the modern date is based on to be more authoritative and John to be mistaken in this instance. For example in a lot of first and second hand accounts in ancient texts, and particularly the bible, you will often find things that just make too little sense to be fiction – like the random naked guy running through Mark's account of this part of the story. Indeed during Mark’s very condensed run through of the final arrest of Jesus, Judas gets with the Jesus kissing, the fuzz shows up, Jesus cops to causing trouble, and everyone books it; but then something really interesting happens. Some random dude, its not even clear from the passage if he was a follower of Jesus, loses his clothes as he tries to flee butt naked. The naked guy adds absolutely nothing to the story, isn’t the least bit relevant to the narrative, and if anything detracts from the message Mark is trying to convey; but fuck would that be memorable to an eyewitness, right? In a time when to be naked was to be dishonored, and to be dishonored was to be less than human in a way that is only really understandable in the abstract in our post-Christian world, that was a pretty big deal. While this would never occur to a fiction writer to put it, an eyewitness talking to the author of Mark would have good reason to consider the tale incomplete without it. On the other hand, John 18 contains a long detailed account of Jesus' seemingly private audience with Pilate who we can safely assume didn't relate the conversation to anyone the author of John would have access to.

Incidentally, Ishtar the dawn goddess was not really remotely analogous to Cybele the mother goddess, her more logical cognate would be Aphrodite who was a lot more badass than the sanitized version of Greek mythology we all get portrays.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:48 AM on April 21 [23 favorites]


First Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, motherfucker! Totally predictable. And reasonable good at matching Easter up to the luni-solar Jewish calendar's dates for Passover.

Except for that one time a couple years ago where Easter was the same weekend as Purim! NOT thematically appropriate, though pretty amusing.
posted by leesh at 8:16 AM on April 21


And no one has yet mentioned the fortuitous holiday concurrence from this year?

420 blaze it, Jesus.
posted by charred husk at 8:25 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


and I can tell you, from the outside, it is deeply perplexing.

I study Christians for a living (the nineteenth-century version, anyway), and I have yet to understand the phenomenon of chocolate crosses for Easter. My parents refused to believe me when I told them Wegmans had such things on the shelves every year, until they visited me during one spring break and I led them to the Easter candy section. There we were, a bunch of Jews, staring in disbelief at chocolate crosses.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:29 AM on April 21 [9 favorites]


(Admittedly, the first time I mentioned this to a good Catholic friend of mine, she sighed and said, "yeah, chocolate crosses do require some explanation." )
posted by thomas j wise at 8:31 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I have yet to understand the phenomenon of chocolate crosses for Easter

Tom Waits has you covered.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:45 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


but the connection between Ishtar and Easter is probably there

It's pretty ridiculous when a group has a well-documented starting date to claim that celebrations of the anniversary of that starting date are actually appropriations of some other celebration. I suppose you think the Fourth of July celebrations in the USA are really about the summer solstice?

Sure, Christmas is obviously piggybacking onto the winter solstice celebrations, because nobody knows when Jesus was born and it's not obvious from looking at early Christianity that the birthday of Jesus would necessarily come to have any particular religious significance. But Christians immediately started celebrating Easter every single week, by observing the first day of the week above (or instead of) the Jewish Sabbath on the last day of the week. It's pretty obvious that Easter Day would end up being a holy day for Christians and silly to claim Ishtar has anything do do with it.
posted by straight at 8:56 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Renoroc: ...whose moniker is derived from a primal Indo-Germanic fertility goddess whose name has many cognates, including Ishtar.

They may have been equivalent goddesses in their respective cultures but linguistically Ishtar and Ēostre have nothing in common. Ishtar was worshipped by people speaking languages in the Afro-Asiatic family and Ēostre by people speaking Indo-European ones. What little is known about Ēostre, which is very little, doesn't resemble much of what we know about Ishtar.
posted by Kattullus at 8:57 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I have yet to understand the phenomenon of chocolate crosses for Easter.

I can't speak for chocolate crosses, but this has long been my favorite Jesus-related patent, although this surpasses it for sheer liveliest awfulness. (Sorry pdfs)

By the way, I don't mean this as any kind of LOLChristians. The really committed Christians I have shared these with over the years have always been at least as aghast as I. Clearly, religion + inventing urges + the entrepreneurial bug often summons up monsters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:57 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


I was hoping for more about the history of the word Easter. Apparently it has nothing to do with Isthar.

Here's a Wikipedia entry on Easter customs around the world, including, apparently spanking in the Czech Republic on Easter Monday.
posted by eye of newt at 8:58 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Speaking of unfamiliar customs, imagine an American stumbling upon Holy Week in Spain completely unawares.
posted by stargell at 8:59 AM on April 21


We had a fairly intense ham vs lamb argument in this house that was settled by having goat stew instead ( with goat cheese if it wasn't Werid enough.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Around these parts the traditional mona de pascua is a bun with a hardboiled egg on it, although modern ones are chocolate houses (with plastic toys, the more the merrier) or figures. Also, torrijas.

I've spent more than 30€ in Belgian chocolate bunnies for my nephews these past weeks, because chocolate is serious business.

stargell, this has been around twitter these days, yeah. Sorry that it's only in Spanish...
posted by sukeban at 9:03 AM on April 21


Oh man, I love that naked running guy in Mark. My favorite explanation is that it's supposed to be St. Mark himself, making a Hitchcockian appearance in the story. Either way, it's pretty funny.
posted by Kattullus at 9:03 AM on April 21 [11 favorites]


dyed Easter Eggs go back forever in Christianity (originally dyed using onion skins)

There are supposedly traditions relating eggs to Mary Magdalene, including a story about her miraculously changing the color of an egg to red, but I suspect it's a modern invention (partly because that story sounds suspiciously like the story of the atheist professor and the dropped chalk the way it imagines the skeptic proposing a weird "I won't believe unless this random thing happens" test). I can't find any references to old versions of the story and the only icons I've seen of Mary Magdeline holding an egg are modern ones.
posted by straight at 9:05 AM on April 21


Oh man, I love that naked running guy in Mark.

Mark definitely has some odd stuff. In Mark 8, Jesus heals a man's sight, and, on the first try, the guy is like "it's really odd; the people look like trees walking around," so Jesus has to give it a second try, and then the guy can see normally. usually you don't get miracles that take two tries....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:11 AM on April 21 [14 favorites]


(Oh, and don't expect any relationship at all between Easter and what's on top of a mona de pascua, except for the random fluffy chickens. Have some Spongebob Squarepants monas for example)
posted by sukeban at 9:15 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


goat stew instead ( with goat cheese if it wasn't Werid enough.)

You guys *really* don't buy into the laws of kashrut, do you?
posted by asterix at 9:16 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Chocolate crosses, like the communion, seem like another symbolic consumption of the deity. Or possibly just a really tacky religious dessert.

Didn't medieval folks make pies in the shape of a swaddled baby Jesus and eat them at Christmas? Chocolate crosses are mild in comparison.

I despise salty pink ham and love lamb, so clearly I was born into the wrong family, because it's that goddamn ham every goddamn year. Try to change it, listen to the howls of outrage.

(couldn't we at least have a nice brisket instead?)

Once my kid realized that hardboiled eggs were kind of gross, we stopped using coloring kits and just stuck to candy-filled plastic ones. We recycle them each year till they wear out or a half of one goes missing. Which it always does.
posted by emjaybee at 9:18 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Another person here that just doesn't ever really understand the Christian timeline of Jesus' last few months. It just hit me that lent was supposed to be the 40 days before Easter...but two things pop out. First, Ash Wednesday isn't 40 days before Easter. Second, what on earth do they do on leap years? Just curious.
posted by BearClaw6 at 9:29 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Since I messed the twitter link above, let me translate the picture, an extract from an unidentified interview with Joe Arlauckas (who had a long career in several Spanish basketball teams):
In Malaga, when you arrive to the Caja de Ronda, you'd find an important cultural contrast.
I don't know how did I arrive to Spain. I've got no idea. I trained in Milwaukee, had a good relationship with Del Harris, but I saw that there was no place for me and my agent called with the offer from Malaga. "There are beaches and it's sunny", he told me. Well okay then. Enough. And coming here it's true, you see the beaches in August, the ferias, and it's cool. But I had a bad time in Malaga because of Pesquera. As for culture shock, fuck. One day I went to see the Holy Week processions with my wife and Ricky Brown, who's a big Black guy. We were drinking beers and in the distance you begin to see these dudes with the hoods, just like the Ku Klux Klan. You can't imagine look on our faces. Ricky was with his back towards them at the beginning. I looked over his shoulder and flipped out. I tried to make Ricky not to turn himself, thinking "we've to take the black man out of here right now". And I tell him, "Ricky, don't turn yourself". But he did and he got white as a paper sheet. Because he was from Mississippi. He got a face like, "holy shit, what the fuck is this". And then Manolo Rubio came to explain that, no, relax, this is some different thing. But fuck, they look just like the Ku Klux Klan. This was very heavy. We were like, oh my god.
(You can tell someone's gotten used to Castilian Spanish when they use "joder" like punctuation, sorry for the language)
posted by sukeban at 9:39 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


First, Ash Wednesday isn't 40 days before Easter.

It is, if you don't count Sundays, which they don't.
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:47 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


The 40 days of Lent don't include Sundays because all Sundays are feast days so you don't fast.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:48 AM on April 21


And Lent isn't really tied into the traditions about what happened to Jesus around the time of his death the way Easter and Pentecost are. It was originally just a time for new converts to prepare themselves for baptism at Easter and gradually became a time for all Christians to prepare themselves to celebrate Easter.
posted by straight at 9:53 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Second, what on earth do they do on leap years?

February 29th doesn't change the count of days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Easter is still the 46th day (as above, Sundays aren't counted) after Ash Wednesday, regardless of whether there's a Leap Day in there.

Interestingly, there has never been an Ash Wednesday on a Leap Day, but there will be one in 2096.
posted by Etrigan at 9:53 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


spring equinox ----> next full moon ----> following Sunday.

Gregorian and Julian are not in there anywhere. It is a matter of scientific measurement (or if you are lazy you can google it) when there's an equinox, when there's a full moon. When it's Sunday in London is it Sunday in Moscow?

I still do not have the faintest idea how the Eastern church gets Easter on the wrong day.
posted by bukvich at 9:55 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I have yet to understand the phenomenon of chocolate crosses for Easter.

I'd love to believe it's a symbolic act, a transformative repudiation of an instrument of death, like beating swords into plowshares or putting carnations in the barrel of a gun or flowering the cross.

But I suspect it's just capitalists selling cross-shaped stuff to Christians with maybe a side-order of people who want to give their kids chocolate for Easter but think the Easter Bunny is too secular.
posted by straight at 10:02 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


not that I've given it much thought, but I must say I love the imprecision of Easter and whatever calendar date it occupies from year to year. I guess, because it speaks to the imprecision of all things, being on a planet that's hurtling around a star that's spiraling through a galaxy that's hurtling through the universe at an inconceivable rate of speed. Also, they didn't do time stamps way back when, whenever all this crucifixion/resurrection stuff allegedly happened.

And so on. We live in a very exacting moment, which is nevertheless informed by the vaguest of myths-traditions-stories from the haziest corners of pre-history, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

This is a good song.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


It is a matter of scientific measurement (or if you are lazy you can google it) when there's an equinox, when there's a full moon.

No, it's not a matter of scientific measurement. The Western liturgical vernal equinox is always on March 21st, even though the astronomical vernal equinox is more often on March 20th.

I still do not have the faintest idea how the Eastern church gets Easter on the wrong day.

It's called computus, and it is in fact because of the differences between the Gregorian and the Julian calendars.
posted by Etrigan at 10:04 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


This site says that:

The two churches vary on the definition of the vernal equinox and the full moon. The Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The Western church does not use the actual, or astronomically correct date for the vernal equinox, but a fixed date (March 21). And by full moon it does not mean the astronomical full moon but the "ecclesiastical moon," which is based on tables created by the church. These constructs allow the date of Easter to be calculated in advance rather than determined by actual astronomical observances, which are naturally less predictable.

The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks
.

A LOT more detail is available here. (And I do mean a LOT. You've been warned).
posted by magstheaxe at 10:05 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust: "By the way, I don't mean this as any kind of LOLChristians. The really committed Christians I have shared these with over the years have always been at least as aghast as I. Clearly, religion + inventing urges + the entrepreneurial bug often summons up monsters."

I have a small collection of tacky Christian tat, including a little action figure of Job with open sores AND boils. But the one thing I have always been sorry I didn't buy, because it is horrifying in a very special way, was a children's Bible in a comic-book style which, when it got to the crucifixion, punked out and had a full-page picture of Jesus, and Jesus says, "And then some men hurt me, but I was okay." And then carries on with the post-resurrection story. Leaves out the crucifixion and resurrection completely.

WHAT THE MOTHERFUCKING FUCK? Especially as it included lots of violent Old Testament shenanigans.

Anyway, I'm fascinated by the great art of Christianity, the folk art of Christianity, and the horrifying commercial tat of Christianity. The only thing that's boring is the mass-produced mediocre art. Go big or go horrifying, don't go dull and safe.

GenjiandProust: "Mark definitely has some odd stuff. "

Mark is also comfortingly terrible at Greek. A lot of the telegraphic, evocative style of Mark is because Mark apparently only learned Greek as an adult (and maybe only learned writing as an adult), and uses Greek like a non-native speaker whose vocabulary isn't very large and whose native grammar isn't the same. When you are slugging your way through all the great Hebrew and Greek poetry and prose of the Bible using massive lexicons, and you get to Mark, it's like PHEW, someone else is really terrible at this!

asterix: "You guys *really* don't buy into the laws of kashrut, do you?"

Yeah, I think Jesus's kosher little head may have just exploded.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:09 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


this surpasses it for sheer liveliest awfulness

I wonder what the Aramaic for "My God, my God, why haven't you turned me off yet? Don't you know how much electricity I'm wasting being on 24/7 even when there's no one in the room to appreciate my lifelike movements and the neverending flow of fake blood from my side?"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:11 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Hm, does anyone do anything to pair Easters to the relevant Christmases? Like, if Jesus lived to 33, then this year's Easter would correspond to Christmas 1981? For some reason it never occurred to me to think of it like that.
posted by yarrow at 10:11 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


bukvich: "I still do not have the faintest idea how the Eastern church gets Easter on the wrong day."

Because the vernal equinox is a CALENDAR date, not an astronomical observation date, largely because any monkey with a pencil can keep a calendar but accurate astronomical observations are a bit harder. So the Gregorian calendar uses March 21 (as noted above) even though it's processed to the 20th. The Julian calendar's March 21 falls on April 3 (currently) because it doesn't correct properly for leap years. I BELIEVE they still also calculate moon cycles without correction, so the moon cycles do not match up with the actual moon, but I'm not totally positive if all Eastern Orthodox do that or not.

It's an interesting ongoing question for any religion that spreads out beyond a very small area; Jews originally did their luni-solar calendar by actually sighting the moon, but in diaspora it's MUCH easier to track the calendar by pen-and-paper (any monkey with a pencil!) than moon sightings, especially when clouds may interfere. Muslims still sight the moon, with a complicated system of local authorities who get to decide when the moon is seen, which leads to the phenomenon every couple of decades where Eid al-Fitr occurs in some countries on one day, and in others on the next day, because some of them saw the moon and others didn't. (If you run a large HR department or banquet hall, you may be familiar with Muslims who aren't totally sure when Eid will be until it happens, and sometimes they rent the banquet hall for three days in a row, just in case.)

Anyway, it's a problem all religions have to solve: Work out calendar feasts with pencil and paper, or use astronomy? In general it doesn't matter a whole lot which system is used, as long as everyone agrees on the system. The Eastern Orthodox all agree on the Julian calendar, so that's the way they go ... and changing the calendar in Eastern Orthodoxy is next to impossible because, arguably, you have to have an ecumenical council to do that, but for the Eastern Orthodox only the Roman Emperor can call a council, and there hasn't been one of those since Constantine XI Palaiologos was killed during the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

(But, one of the reasons that Anastasia Romanov is of such enduring interest to conspiracy theorists worldwide, is that the empty title of Eastern Roman Emperor eventually passed via marriage into the Romanov dynasty, and if Anastasia survived she would theoretically hold that title. Maybe. Andreas Palaiologos sold the title at least twice while living "in exile.")

Remember, the Pope promulgated the Gregorian calendar by Papal bull in 1582, and it was adopted relatively quickly in Spain and France. But despite its superiority as a calendar, many Protestant countries simply refused it as being too Pope-y, with adoption proceeding slowly from about 1650 to 1750 in most Protestant countries. Britain and its American colonies didn't make the change until 1752, so that George Washington was born Julian and died Gregorian. Several other countries didn't make the switch until changing hands after WWI. It takes a looooooooooong time to make calendar changes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:12 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


These constructs allow the date of Easter to be calculated in advance rather than determined by actual astronomical observances, which are naturally less predictable.

Which is important if you have to decide which day to schedule your daughter's c-section and you figure why not choose so that she won't have to have a birthday on Ash Wednesday (at least until she's 63).
posted by straight at 10:16 AM on April 21


David Sedaris exploring the differences between American and French Easters, for those who like that kind of thing.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:22 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


As a Christian there is really so much that is so bizarre, fascinating, amazing, and institutionally embarrassing about the celebration of Easter that it is really almost disappointing that modern conversations about it are dominated by this ridiculous infographic thing started by the The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science's facebook page.

I've always found these sorts of observations about Chrsitianity to be pretty odd. Pagan origins of Christmas, Easter, other things... If you grok that Christianity has often understood that its mission, at its core, is about redeeming things that were once existentially lost, this would all be par for the course, not a discredit to its fundamental message.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:19 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Man, I love how messy the worldbuilding of the REAL FRICKIN WORLD is. When you can see the disparate origins of all sorts of holidays and how a lot of it in broad brush strokes goes back to planetary cycles though the religious stories somewhat conceal that. So we get celebrations of light and sparklies and evergreens near the winter solstice and fertility/rebirth symbolism near spring. I love it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:10 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Resurrection Day: Never Forget

...

"DAMN IT!"
posted by Debaser626 at 12:54 PM on April 21


Blasdeb: There are good reasons to consider the synoptic accounting that the modern date is based on to be more authoritative and John to be mistaken in this instance.

Clearly there are good reasons for believing the synoptic dating over the Johannine one, but my understanding was that scholarly consensus had largely solidified around John (based on my recent reading of Jerome Kodell's The Eucharist in the New Testament)? But I might be reading more into your comment than you intended?
posted by Jahaza at 3:06 PM on April 21


Or see for example this article by Jonathan Klawans that covers much of the same ground... starting with Jeramias's case for the synoptic dating and ultimately coming down contra Jeremias.
posted by Jahaza at 3:09 PM on April 21


The Quartodeciman controversy had absolutely nothing to do with pre-Christian gods, and if anything is actually a lot more embarrassing than that. At its heart it related to how the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John fundamentally disagree about the placement of Easter in relation to passover, both cannot be right, and early Christians disagreed about which one should be used

To rephrase, Easter was celebrated differently in many places that coincided with known Attis influences. For example, "In the 4th and 5th centuries, Alexandrian and Roman methods of calculation differed. Augustine of Hippo tells us that in 387 Gaul observed Easter on 21 March, Italy 18 April and Alexandria 25 April. Alexandrian practice ultimately prevailed." Also mentioned here. Many think it was a miscalculation, not realizing the connection between Easter and Attis and March 21.

The naked guy adds absolutely nothing to the story, isn’t the least bit relevant to the narrative, and if anything detracts from the message Mark is trying to convey; but fuck would that be memorable to an eyewitness, right? In a time when to be naked was to be dishonored, and to be dishonored was to be less than human in a way that is only really understandable in the abstract in our post-Christian world, that was a pretty big deal. While this would never occur to a fiction writer to put it, an eyewitness talking to the author of Mark would have good reason to consider the tale incomplete without it.

Writing fiction and scripture were not necessarily antithetical. More details here.
posted by Brian B. at 3:25 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


St. Marien Kirche in Rostock, Germany has a phenomenal astronomical clock dating back to the 15th dial. It's a neat clockwork, but what I was really struck by was the calendar disc. They'd basically worked out and hand painted a flat circle, 200+ years of the date of Easter and many other important days. The current one goes from 1885–2017: here's a high resolution picture of the dial.
posted by Nelson at 3:52 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, Ishtar the dawn goddess was not really remotely analogous to Cybele the mother goddess, her more logical cognate would be Aphrodite who was a lot more badass than the sanitized version of Greek mythology we all get portrays.

Attis is Adonis, and Aphrodite was his consort. He was also known as Tammuz. The mystery religion(s) were largely overlapping as oral traditions are concerned, because they represented the reliance on agriculture and the gods that governed it, which was imported as any other technology would be.
posted by Brian B. at 3:57 PM on April 21


If you need more weird Easter traditions, here's the (good-natured) rocket war between two rival churches on the Greek island of Vrontados during Easter services.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:59 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


All these fascinating tussles over dates of holidays, rich history and tradition. But dates have consequences, as is in "when does the store open/close". That's the advantage of living somewhere where there is a multitude of cultures coexisting. Sure, a store can always surprise you by randomly closing, but there's another one open to compensate. Right now, B&H is closed for Passover, to reopen April 23 9:00 A.M., but Samy's open right now. Meanwhile, when I lived in Sweden in the 70's/80's, the whole darn country shut down during certain holidays. It was always a bit of a gamble when traveling in Europe back then - you could end up somewhere where even the grocery stores were closed, so you had, like - no food. Of course, things have changed, laws were relaxed, but I remember the battles fought between those who wanted for all commercial activity to cease because of a religious occasion and got laws passed to effect that, and those who didn't like the impact on those who were not religious. It used to be an iron rule - Sunday, "CLOSED". No more. Which is why a nice balance is to have a multitude of options, so no power is concentrated in any one center - I live right now in an area with a heavy presence of Orthodox Jews, and I love it, they're fantastic neighbors, you really could not ask for better, but it is my understanding that in some parts of Israel, it can get tense when a heavily religious neighborhood imposes rules on activities by those of different practices. Meanwhile, it's symbiotic - it's happened on more than one occasion, that I've carried a bag for a fellow who was caught a few blocks away from home when sundown hit on Friday. You quickly learn that dates and times are very important.
posted by VikingSword at 4:52 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I was born on Easter and it fell on my 11th, 22nd and 33rd birthdays. That won't happen again until my 95th birthday.

As an atheist, I can't explain why that makes me sad.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:57 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Patti Smith - Easter
posted by ovvl at 5:34 PM on April 21


I like that we still have messy, organic feast dates in our increasingly regimented, digital world.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:16 PM on April 21


Not to harp on that naked running guy, but it really does put a different spin on The Gospel According to Mark if it was written by a guy who felt that inserting a description of his naked self running away from the authorities was a good idea.
posted by Kattullus at 6:33 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Nelson: thanks so much for that link - what an amazing masterpiece. I'm now reminded of the Great Clock in Anathem.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:01 PM on April 22


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