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Why is Easter in March and Passover April this year?

Written by Dianna Wiebe on .

This year, Easter and Passover, two significant springtime celebrations, fall in different months. But have you ever wondered why they sometimes align closely and other times they are weeks apart? To unravel this puzzle, we’ll journey through history to explore the origins of these holidays and the changes that have led to their separation. Join us as we uncover the traditions that shape our observances of the Resurrection and Passover, shedding light on their timing.

Passover began with God’s instructions to Moses while the Hebrews were still in Egypt. God told Moses that a new calendar would start for them, even before they left Egypt. This would become the calendar they would follow and from this calendar the dates of holidays or festivals would established.

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,  “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

Exodus 12:1-2

On this day you are going out, in the month Abib.

Exodus 13:4

Abib, later renamed Nissan, occurs in the springtime of the year.

Just before God talked to Moses about the calendar, He had sent nine plagues on Egypt and was getting ready for the tenth. To keep His people safe, He told Moses what to tell the Hebrews and anyone else who wanted to follow His instructions.

You can find these instructions in Leviticus 23. Along with Passover, God also gave rules for the Sabbath and six other biblical holidays. Four of these holidays occur in the spring or early summer, while the last three holidays are in the fall. On the very first Passover, which was on Nisan 14, God freed the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. After that, every year on Nisan 14, the Hebrews were told to remember these events surrounding their freedom from Egypt.

Let’s jump ahead to the first century. Jesus, at 12 years old, went to Jerusalem with His family to observe the Passover, just like they did every year. As Jesus grew up, He continued celebrating Passover.

At the end of His life, He died on Passover. Three days later He rose from the grave!

After Jesus died, His followers continued celebrating Passover, but also His resurrection. However, things shifted in the third century for the early church.

After Jesus died, new believers who weren’t Jewish started celebrating Passover too. They celebrated not just their freedom from sin but also their new life with Jesus. At first, most believers were Jewish, but by the end of the first century, many non-Jewish believers joined the early church. Sadly, disagreements soon arose, and people split into different groups for various reasons, both religious and political. By the third century, Christianity and Judaism were seen as separate religions. Still, many early Christians kept celebrating both Passover and Jesus’ Resurrection.

In 325 AD, during the Council of Nicea, it was decided that the Resurrection would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. Back then, they used the Julian calendar, and this set the date for Easter in March.

The word Easter is likely a transliteration of the Hebrew word Pesach and the Greek word Pascha. The word was borrowed from the German word which it means new life or resurrection. So now we see that not only has the original festival has changed from what was celebrated but also the name of the celebration.

In 1582, people started using the Gregorian calendar, which caused issues with figuring out when Easter should be celebrated.

The Eastern Church kept using the Julian calendar, so they’re celebrating Easter on May 5, 2021.

For Protestant and Catholic churches, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. If that Sunday falls on Easter, they wait a week. So, this year, Protestants and Catholics will celebrate Easter on March 31, 2024.

Jewish Passover falls on April 22, 2024, according to the biblical calendar.

Over the past two thousand years since Jesus died, how believers celebrate Passover and the Resurrection has changed. Now, they follow different calendars for these important events and different traditions.

This year, on March 31, my family celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus our Lord. Then on April 22, we will gather again to remember the first Passover and how Jesus became the final Passover lamb for us.

What about your family? Are you celebrating Easter, Passover, or both this year?

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