Sunday 15 September 2019

Editorial: 'It's Time to talk about a fixed date for the Easter holiday'

'We are talking about the biggest feast in the calendar of all the Christian Churches.' (stock photo)
'We are talking about the biggest feast in the calendar of all the Christian Churches.' (stock photo)


Today, April 22, is Easter Monday and a welcome public holiday for many of us. Just 12 months ago this Easter holiday fell on April 1.

So, the year-on-year variation is close to the outer parameters during which Easter Monday can fall and which stretch from March 23 until April 26. That is a heck of a long time-span and the situation merits a long overdue debate on fixing the date upon which the Easter weekend falls.

The formula for calculating the Easter dates from a conference of bishops drawn from across the Roman Empire at Nicaea in 325 AD. The bishops agreed to separate the computation of Easter from the traditional Jewish feast of the Passover.

It has of itself been the subject of many controversies over the centuries and numbered among the reasons for division between the western and eastern Christian churches. But for a long time, and to keep this simple for our purposes, Easter is the weekend after the first full moon to follow the spring equinox of March 21.

There would be great benefits for business people, especially those engaged in hospitality and tourism, in knowing without having to resort to almanacs and lunar tables when precisely Easter is happening. Workers and even employers could better plan work rosters and project timetables in advance by knowing the date at a glance.

Soon it would be memorised and be as retrievable as Christmas or St Patrick's Day. As things stand Easter often just creeps up on people.

There are counter-arguments, not least 2,000 years of Christian culture, tradition and belief. The global reaction to the traumatic inferno at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, precisely a week ago today, reminded us of the cultural strength of those links - even in this secular era.

That is why we would need informed and respectful debate. We are talking about the biggest feast in the calendar of all the Christian Churches.

There is always the option of separating out the secular holiday from the sacred feast. This has long ago been done with the Whit weekend.

Pentecost, or Whit Sunday, marks the belief that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ's disciples. It is celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday, clearly with the same proportional variations.

This year Whit Sunday will be on June 9, while last year it was on May 20. But this year also, the Whit Monday public holiday will be on June 3, and as with usual practice, the first Monday in June.

There are many old debates, variations and disputes about the fixing of major national feasts and holidays. March 17 as the Feast of St Patrick relies upon the tradition he died on that date back in 467 AD. Often the date owes much to the pragmatic need to have a fixed day.

We know there are almost two millennia of tradition bound up in this one. So, it may not be an easy debate. Then again challenging debates, properly conducted with due respect, can be very beneficial while there is much less to be gained from easy debates.

And this debate is now long overdue.

Irish Independent

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