It never fails, people will kindly wish me “Happy Easter”, prompting an internal conflict I have yet to resolve. Because most of the time, it won’t be Easter for me, yet!
Usually I just say thanks and wish them a good one in return. Because I’m just a nice person, you know. 😉 The reality is that as a Greek Orthodox Christian, Easter, which is properly called Pascha (PAH-ska), doesn’t always coincide with the Easter celebrated by the Catholic Church and other western Christian denominations.
The reason is simple. We follow an older calendar when it comes to determining when Pascha will be celebrated. Though the world in general now follows the same calendar for day-to-day date keeping, for religious purposes many faiths will still follow the original calendars that were used at the time the various major events in their faith occurred. The modern calendar is the Gregorian calendar, but the one that is used for some of the Orthodox holidays is the Julian calendar.
So why bother? Many Orthodox Christians determine things like Christmas with the modern Gregorian determined date, so why not Pascha? It’s because Pascha occurred as a specific sequence of events over a week’s time. Those events were contingent on the Jewish holiday of Passover (which is where the Pascha name actually comes from). Since Jewish Passover is still determined using the old Julian calendar, the Orthodox Church also bases the celebration of Easter on that timing in order to be as historically accurate as possible. This isn’t the case with Christmas so it doesn’t have to be tied to a specific calendar.
Think about it, Palm Sunday is the day that Christ enters into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Holy Wednesday is the Last Supper, which was a Seder, a traditional meal celebrated for Passover. Christ is then crucified on Thursday, buried on Friday, and is resurrected on Easter Sunday. The date the western churches celebrate Easter often happens BEFORE Passover because they use the newer calendar. How could Christ be crucified before he even comes in to Jerusalem for Passover? It may seem like a trivial thing, but it really is an effort to keep the date of Pascha as historically accurate as possible. Sometimes the difference in dates can be several weeks!
There are some real benefits to celebrating Orthodox Easter at the later date, by the way. We always get all the specials on Easter candy, egg dye, baskets, etc.! The drawback, though, is trying to explain to your friends why you might still have Easter eggs in your lunch when they had their holiday a month earlier, especially when you’re a kid. No matter which date you use, may your holidays be special and be happily celebrated with the ones you love!