April's Full Moon has Important Distinction

     The full moon this month is on April 18th. But it is not just any old full moon, this one is special. April's full moon is the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox and it determines the date of a very widely celebrated holiday: Easter.

     Easter is celebrated by Christians all over the world. The holy day remembers Christ's death on the cross and rejoices for the Resurrection. It expresses the essential message of Christianity: redemption of the soul.

    Easter occurs in spring, close to the vernal equinox. Specifically Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox unless the full moon is on the equinox in which case it is after the following full moon.  In fact, there was a full moon within hours of the spring equinox this year, and so we use this full moon on April 18th to date Easter by.

     So now you know how the date of Easter is determined. But why is it that Easter has no definite date such as Christmas. Why does it move around, sometimes early in the spring, sometimes later? And what is the connection with the moon?

   Easter was always a very special holy day, far more than even Christmas a few thousand years ago. During this time, the true believers used to make a pilgrimage to the holy lands. Of course, in this day there were no trains, planes and automobiles, there was foot, camel and horse. Most traveled by foot. This presented a new problem because they needed to be able to travel after dark, and therefore needed some kind of light. What better light to have than the light of the moon?

     Pilgrims to the holy lands walked at night by the light of the moon. The only way to make sure they would have that light would be to have the holy day move around and follow the moon.  A week after the full moon would have the moon rising late at night and being in the sky all night, very convenient for those traveling!

     Another question which pops up is why the vernal equinox? Equinox means "equal time" and it marks the time of equal periods of day and night. The earth is at the point in its orbit where this occurs. It is also the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and this alone is cause for celebration. Most cultures have over the years had some sort of celebration connected with this date.

    There are actually many holidays centered around astronomical events. Christmas is also celebrated near an astronomical event, the winter solstice, the point in the Earth's orbit where it is farthest from the Sun. Christmas was celebrated near that date not because that's when Christians believed that Christ was born, far from it. Christmas was celebrated then because too many pagans were celebrating the winter solstice and in the minds of the Christians, if they couldn't convert the pagans, they would at least celebrate something at the same time and they could work on what was celebrated later!

  Easter, and the Easter bunny himself might just have similar origins. Many cultures have told stories about a "hare in the moon" a bunny equivalent of our man in the moon. Rabbits were often seen as a symbol of sacrificial death. Eggs on the other hand, were seen as symbols of birth. Easter is celebrated at a time when the world is reviving itself from the death of winter. The Easter bunny comes early Easter morning and leaves presents and sweets and his true calling card, a decorated Easter egg. The symbolism has been lost, but they are still there.


Copyright © 2001 Kathy A. Miles and Charles F. Peters II