Easter's early arrival: How the Moon shapes the date

This month, depending on which time zone you live in, the vernal equinox (the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere) occurred either on March 19 or March 20. The moon was full on Wednesday (March 23). It was the first one of spring, so it was called the Paschal Moon.

This year, if you have not already noticed, Easter is going to arrive rather early: Sunday, March 27. The date of Easter has a curious link to the moon's phases.

In fact, Easter will slip into April for the next eight years. Not until the year 2024 will Easter once again occur in March. At that time, the date will still not occur as early as it does this year (in 2024, Easter will arrive on March 31). We'll have to wait until the year 2035 for Easter to come earlier in the calendar than it does this year. In 2035, Easter will occur on March 25. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Facts]

Read on for the official explanation of how the Easter holiday date is determined.

The new moon nearest the vernal equinox is the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan. Then comes the Paschal (full) moon, also known as the Paschal Term, which may fall on the 14th or 15th of Nisan, which also marks Pesach, or Passover.

Traditionally, Easter is observed on the Sunday after the Paschal Term. If the Paschal Term occurs on a Sunday, Easter is moved to the following Sunday. Following these rules, we find that Easter can fall as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. Pope Gregory XIII decreed this in 1582 as part of the Gregorian calendar.

Changeable weather too!

If you were to ask a person to describe the traditional weather you might expect to see for northern climes on Christmas Day, the answer would probably be cold and snowy. Similarly, if you were to ask about the weather on July Fourth/Independence Day, the likely response would be sunny and hot.  But how do you respond if you’re asked to describe the “typical” weather for Easter?

The fact that Easter occurs at a time of the year when weather patterns are transitioning from winter to spring, means that the weather can be expected to vary widely, depending upon just when the holiday occurs in a given year.

In 1970, Easter fell on March 29. In that year, a snowstorm hit the northeastern United States. In New York City, the famous Easter Parade had to be canceled, as 4 inches of snow fell, with more than 12 inches accumulating just to the north of the city. It certainly looked and felt a lot more like Christmas!

But six years later, in 1976, Easter fell on April 18, which ended up going down in New York weather annals as the hottest Easter on record. Not only was the 96-degree reading that day the hottest temperature recorded in Central Park that year, it also was the very first (and so far the only time) that New York held the distinction of being the hottest location in the United States!

Which only goes to prove, that sometimes there’s a very big difference between the first day of spring and the first spring day!

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