The Moon for Passover and Easter

Photo by AJ Martin

Why do the dates for Passover and Easter change each year?  It's all on account of the moon! That's the moon over Hyannis in the photo above.  It appears to be a full moon and it almost is - but not quite!  The full moon will occur on this Tuesday, April 11 at 2:08 a.m.

For Jews and Christians alike, it's the moon that determines the dates of our greatest religious celebrations: Passover and Easter.

Determining the date for Passover:
The Jewish calendar year begins in late September or early October with the celebration of Rosh Hashana. Unlike our calendar which is based on the solar year, the Jewish calendar uses twelve lunar months, 29-30 days in length. The new moon marks the beginning of each month with the full moon occurring halfway through the month. The seventh month in a normal Jewish calendar year is the month of Nisan. Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan at the time of the full moon Passover begins this year on Monday, April 10.

Determining the date for Easter (Western Church):
Easter is observed on the first Sunday following the full moon that comes on or after the vernal equinox (March 21). Thus Easter can take place as early as March 22 but no later than April 25. This full moon is normally the full moon which takes place on the 14th day of Nisan on the Jewish calendar.  In most years Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following Passover.  This year's Passover celebration begins on April 10 and concludes on April 18 and this year Easter is celebrated on Sunday, April 16.

Determining the date for Easter in the Orthodox Church):
The Western Church (Catholic and Protestant) celebrates Easter based on the Gregorian Calendar, while the Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar. As a result, in most years the Orthodox Easter follows the Western Easter by one or more weeks, although in some years the dates coincide - as they do in 2017 - when the Orthodox Church and the Western Church will both celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 16.

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