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Time to fix our wandering Easter?

Friday 01 April 2005

A week in the country. An Easter inquest: why is it so early - and how much damage does it do to the tourist trade?

MY FRIEND Andrew, who has been in the pub/hotel/restaurant business for a quarter of a century between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District was not in a good mood when I popped in to see him last weekend.

He is probably not in a good mood this weekend - and won't be next, either. For that is when he would like Easter to be, when spring has hopefully fully sprung and there should be more customers to allow him to pay for the staff and fixed overheads he has been forced to carry through a lean winter.

"I just cannot understand these stupid swings," he said in a half-empty bar on Bank Holiday Monday. "It makes this trade very difficult to plan - and there must be thousands more like it in the Dales and the Lake District."

Now I would dearly like to explain why this holiday swings between March 22 and April 25 - in the West that is, but not in the Eastern Orthodox Church - but I am not sure that I can.

A holiday to early?

For a start - and this might come as a shock to devout Christians - its date was first fixed, not by the actual death and resurrection of Christ, but close to the ancient Hebrew Feast of the Passover.

And that, somewhere back in the mists of time, was fixed by a lunar calendar month called Nisan, which fell more or less at the time of the spring equinox. In the fourth Century AD, early Christians met to fix a date and according to my old encyclopaedia:

"It was decided to hold Easter on the first Sunday of the month in which this day coincided with the spring equinox or followed it immediately. If that day was a Sunday, the feast would be moved to the following Sunday..."

There is more in the same vein and I shan't go on only to point out that when the dates were eventually switched from lunar to solar months, it was to the Gregorian calendar - which was in itself reformed centuries later, causing riots all over Europe because people thought their lives were being cut short.

Suffice it to say that learned scholars have been arguing about this subject for centuries too. In 1928, the British Government passed an act of Parliament demanding that the churches fix the date to more or less the second week of April, depending on where the Sundays fall. It has never been enacted because the various Christian denominations cannot agree!

But to my friend Andrew, it makes business life difficult - he needs a good Easter trade to make up for his losses in January and February. It is pretty tough on many other professions too.

A very early Easter like this one makes the summer term in school extremely long, which is tough on the teachers but even worse on the kids who will be taking their exams at the end of a very long drag when they are already pretty exhausted.

It's tough on us ordinary folk, too, because the first break of a new year should be celebrated in (hopefully) milder April, rather than in the harsh North winds of March which raked this area last weekend.

So couldn't, just for once, Church leaders stop falling out over royal weddings, gay priests or woman bishops and do something simple that people really care about?

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