Easter is one of the most important festivals of Christianity, and it is the center of the Christian liturgical year. The festival commemorates the story of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Throughout the church's history, Christians in different parts of the world have celebrated Easter in different ways. The most obvious differences are between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Catholic Easter Dates
The computation of Easter in the early church was a controversial issue. Churches in different cities calculated the date of Easter in different ways, resulting in divergent dates for the feast. However, by the middle of the fifth century, a uniform standard had emerged. The date of Easter was set as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Until the eighth century, a few areas maintained other methods of determining the date of Easter.
Orthodox Easter Dates
When the Catholic and Orthodox churches separated in the 11th century, both churches calculated the date of Easter in the same way. However, the Catholic church adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, and the Orthodox church continued to use the older Julian calendar. Even when the Julian calendar stopped being the civil calendar of Orthodox countries such as Russia, the church continued to use it. Because the two calendars had a difference of 13 days by the 21st century, and because both churches use March 21 for the date of the vernal equinox instead of the observed equinox, the date of Easter is different in both churches.
Because of the differences between the two calendars, Orthodox and Catholic Easter are sometimes on the same days, and sometimes their dates vary. Catholic Easter can fall on any date between March 22 and April 25, and Orthodox Easter falls on any date between April 4 and May 8. In 2011, for example, Orthodox and Catholic Easter both fell on April 24. But in 2008, Catholic Easter was March 23 and Orthodox Easter was April 27.
Despite the difference in dates, there are many similarities between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Easter customs. For instance, many Eastern European countries, both Catholic and Orthodox, decorate eggs for Easter. However, there are also a number of differences. Large communal meals, often including lamb, are eaten in Orthodox countries such as Greece. Easter in Greece is also an occasion for kite-flying. In Ukraine, bakers prepare special Easter bread called paska, decorated with symbols such as crosses and plant motifs. In former Catholic countries such as Britain and in Catholic countries such as Ireland, Easter egg hunts are common.
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