This year, Easter will be observed on Sunday, April 17. (Eastern Orthodox Easter will take place on Sunday, April 24.)
Easter is a “movable feast,” so it doesn’t happen on the same date from year to year. However, it is always observed on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25.
Easter this year happens just one day after April’s full Moon (Saturday, April 16), which is the first full Moon to occur after the spring equinox (March 20, 2022) and is therefore known in the Christian calendar as the “Paschal Full Moon.” To make a long story short, Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is why Easter is so late this year. Read more about this curious connection below!
Over a 500-year period (from 1600 to 2099 AD), it just so happens that Easter will have most often been celebrated on either March 31 or April 16.
Many Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. In this case, the observance of Easter can occur between April 4 and May 8.
Would you believe that the date of Easter is related to the full Moon?
Specifically, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox. Yes, it’s a bit confusing at first read!
Let’s break it down: In 2022, the spring equinox happens on Sunday, March 20. The first full Moon to occur after that date rises on Saturday, April 16. Therefore, Easter will be observed on the subsequent Sunday, which is Sunday, April 17.
In Christian calendars, the first full Moon of spring is called the “Paschal Full Moon” (which we’ll explain further below). So, to put it another way: Easter is observed on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.
Generally, if the full Moon occurs on the same day as the spring equinox, Easter is observed on the subsequent Sunday. However, there is a caveat:
Long ago, the Christian Church decided to simplify the process of calculating Easter’s date by always observing the spring equinox on March 21, despite the fact that the equinox date changes over time and is actually getting earlier.
This discrepancy between the astronomical equinox date and the Church’s observed equinox date can sometimes cause confusion, as it did in 2019, when the full Moon and the astronomical equinox occurred on the same day—Wednesday, March 20.
According to the formula above, this should have meant that Easter would be observed on Sunday, March 24. However, because the Church observes the equinox on March 21, the full Moon technically did not occur “on or just after” the equinox, meaning that the next full Moon would determine Easter’s date instead. Thus, in 2019, Easter was held on Sunday, April 21, after the full Moon on Friday, April 19.
The word “Paschal,” which is used in the ecclesiastical (Christian church) calendar, comes from “Pascha,” a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning “Passover.”
In reference to the full Moon, Paschal refers to the date of the full Moon determined many years ago as the 14th day of a lunar month. Ancient calculations (made in a.d. 325) did not take into account certain lunar motions.
So, the Paschal Full Moon is the 14th day of a lunar month occurring on or after March 21 according to a fixed set of ecclesiastical calendar rules, which does not always match the date of the astronomical full Moon nearest the astronomical spring equinox.
It sounds complicated, but the basic idea is to make it simpler to calculate the date for modern calendars. Rest assured, the dates for Easter are calculated long in advance.