If you check this week’s Friday in your calendar, you will find a rare coincidence. The beginning of Passover and Good Friday are on the same day. For those of you who are not so sure what either is about: Passover commemorates the saving of all Jewish first-borns by the Angel of Death, which triggered the Jewish Exodus from Egypt; Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth at the beginning of Passover, historically probably in the year 30. So, the Christian Holy Week and Easter overlap with the Jewish Passover this year. How closely related these dates are in both religions is reflected by the name for Easter in many languages, except English and German. The French, e.g., call it Pâques, a version of the terms Pesach or Pascha, which means Passover.
But why do these dates not always overlap, since there is indeed the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth and his crucifixion shortly before Passover? And why is there no fixed date of Good Friday and Easter? Holy Night (Christmas Eve) is always celebrated on December 24, after all. So, why is the day of the Crucifixion not commemorated on a specific date, too?
The Jewish holidays are calculated by a precise lunisolar calendar – by moon-months and by the seasons created by the sun. The Christian holiday calendar seems to be a bit less logical. We all know that December 24 is not the date of winter solstice; yet, the pagan fests of light were the perfect symbolism for the Christian church for the date of Jesus of Nazareth’s birth. A clever move to persuade so-called pagans to convert to Christianity. But why not similar with Easter? Or why not be consistent at least with Passover?
Whereas the Jewish calendar is adjusting by adding a leap month, which is an extra moon month, every other or third year to keep seasons and months connected, the Western Christian calendar strictly keeps to its 365 days a year with just a leap day every fourth year. Passover can begin on any weekday, just because it is the Nisan’s, the first full moon month of spring’s 14th day. Christians decided in the year of 325 that Christ’s Resurrection had to be celebrated on a Sunday. Why? The four evangelists differ in referring to a specific day of the Crucifixion. Some would have had it happen on the first day of Passover, St. John dates it to the day before, which would be more plausible. You don’t taint a holiday by a crucifixion, right?! So, the easiest thing to do was obviously to simplify matters. Keep the first full moon in spring as a point of reference, just as does Passover, and decide on the resurrection to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the equinox, then calculate Holy Week back from there. One problem solved.
In come the different Christian calendars – and that is due to the western Christian churches and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. Whereas the Orthodox churches adhere to the solar Julian calendar introduced by Roman emperor Julius Cesar, the western churches took to the Gregorian calendar as of 1582, which was an astronomically optimized calendar. Ensuing was a time difference between the two calendars and, thus, between the church holidays. Currently, since the year 1900 and until February 28, 2100, the Julian calendar limps behind by thirteen days. Which means that this year’s Gregorian March 20 is the Julian March 7. Which also means that the first spring full moon differs. But then, the Julian calendar is also used for calculating the moon phases and, therefore, even these differ from the Gregorian calendar. Which explains why the Eastern as well as the Oriental Orthodox churches celebrate Easter one week later than the western Christian churches in 2022, but concur in 2025. But they also always stick with a Holy Week ending with the Resurrection on a Sunday. Are you still with me?!
To be honest, the Julian calendar has a bewildering history itself, omitting and adding days. But after all is said and done, the above-mentioned reasoning has been the simplest way for the churches to schedule Easter. So, if not much has gone right in 2022 so far, at least the concurrence of the Western Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover has. Let’s hope for more good concurrences and coincidences in this strange year. With this in mind: Happy Easter and Chag Pesach Sameach!