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The mysteries of Easter 2010

Friday 2 April 2010

Countryside commentator John Sheard, trying to escape the election fever which is gripping politicians and the media - but not the general public - discusses the mysteries of Easter: how its date is fixed and, this year, the puzzle of snowdrops still in flower as the first cherry blossoms

EASTER has always been one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. For the clergy and the truly devout, it is the mystery of the Resurrection, the rise from the dead. For hoteliers, publicans and B&B owners in the Yorkshire Dales, it is the uncertainty of whether their tills will ring.

For the ordinary man in the street, it is the mystery of – “Why is it this weekend?” And for me, it the strange mystery of our weather in these days of alleged global warning which caused me to ask this week: “Why are the snowdrops still out when the first cherries are coming into flower?”

Snowdrops
Mystery: snowdrops at Easter

This question came to mind when, for the first time this season, I was casting a fly for brown trout in a rare, two hours spell of sunshine between showers. When I worked my way to one of my all-time favourite pools, there came something of a shock.

The far bank of this pool, which I have fished for some 40 years, is a lush, mossy climb from a fast flowing ripple and gets full sun from the moment it rises over the fells until is disappears overhead at midday. Because of this cosy habitat, it is usually covered with primroses at this time of the year. This week, it was thick with...snowdrops.

That, of course, set off the old global warming debate, which I don’t intend to go into yet again today. But on the way home that evening, I noticed that a flowering cherry had come into blossom whilst his daffodils were cautiously beginning to pop open. Snow drops and cherries – at primrose time? Now there’s a mystery for you.

It is not, however, any where near as mystifying as when Easter happens to be this weekend, when it could fall at any time between March 22 and April 25. For that, one has to peer back into the mysteries of time and, into an already heady brew of obfuscation, take into account centuries of inter-religious squabbling (it’s not Easter in Russia or Greece, by the way, until April 4).

It is necessary, of course, to have Good Friday and Easter Monday on those allotted days. But logic would say that the festival could not move more than three days, back or fourth, in the week. But that would be to suggest that logic played some part in these decisions – and there is cant historical record of that.

For as start, this major Christian festival was probably based on the Jewish Feast of the Passover, which goes back to the time when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. The early founders of the Roman Catholic Church liked to link its new festivals a close as possible to already old traditions, which is probably why they put Christmas close to the winter solstice in December.

Just to be out of range of all those MPs on radio and TV is a holiday in its own right

The date of Easter was set at about its present dates at the Council of Nicaea in AD325 but – just to confuse matters even further – this was in the old Julian calendar which was ten days adrift from the present calendar which came into use 1,200 years later.

To boggle the mind even further for the man and woman in the street, or on holiday in the Yorkshire Dales this weekend, the Easter date was set by the lunar calendar, where every month measures 28 days. And those wise man back in the 4th Century decided that Easter should be on the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is generally March 21.

One would have though that this was enough obfuscation for priests who no doubt wanted to keep ordinary folk marvelling at such mysteries but then, of course, the priests began to fall out amongst themselves, a row that has been going on ever since.

This why members of the Eastern Orthodox faiths have a different date. And even the good old Church of England has been trying for years to agree a fixed date – but they cannot come to an agreement with Rome. What Jesus, who prided himself on being a simple man, would have made of all this is a matter of fascinating conjecture.

However, and perhaps sadly, Easter has become a major temporal event, with supermarkets and DIY stores turning it into the year’s second biggest sales bonanza after Christmas. To a much lesser degree, places like the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District depend on Easter visitors to fill their empty cash registers after one of the worst winters for 30 years.

For them, this year’s Easter dates are about right. In normal circumstances, spring would have shown some of its sunnier face and it is not to close to the soon to be with us May Bank holiday. We have fewer Bank Holidays than almost every other country in Europe and putting two so close together – within two weeks some years – is considered anathema by many of my friends in the tourist trade.

For them, this weekend, the mystery is what is happening to our weather. As I write this (on Thursday, April 1) I look out over the snow on the moors in my part of the Dales. The weather forecast does offer a glimmer of sun on Sunday but who knows? After a winter like this, and the country in financial ruin and political chaos, I urge people to get out there and enjoy what they can. Just to be out of range of all those MPs on radio and TV is a holiday in its own right, whatever the weather.

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