The Date of Easter
Astronomical Applications Dept. Astronomical Applications Dept.
 
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Easter is an annual festival observed throughout the Christian world. The date for Easter shifts every year within the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is the standard international calendar for civil use. In addition, it regulates the ceremonial cycle of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The current Gregorian ecclesiastical rules that determine the date of Easter trace back to 325 CE at the First Council of Nicaea convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine. At that time the Roman world used the Julian Calendar (put in place by Julius Caesar).

The Council decided to keep Easter on a Sunday, the same Sunday throughout the world. To fix incontrovertibly the date for Easter, and to make it determinable indefinitely in advance, the Council constructed special tables to compute the date. These tables were revised in the following few centuries resulting eventually in the tables constructed by the 6th century Abbot of Scythia, Dionysis Exiguus. Nonetheless, different means of calculations continued in use throughout the Christian world.

In 1582 Gregory XIII (Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) completed a reconstruction of the Julian calendar and produced new Easter tables. One major difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendar is the "leap year rule". See our FAQ on Calendars for a description of the difference. Universal adoption of this Gregorian calendar occurred slowly. By the 1700's, though, most of western Europe had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. The Eastern Christian churches still determine the Easter dates using the older Julian Calendar method.

The usual statement, that Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox, is not a precise statement of the actual ecclesiastical rules. The full moon involved is not the astronomical Full Moon but an ecclesiastical moon (determined from tables) that keeps, more or less, in step with the astronomical Moon.

The ecclesiastical rules are:

resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25. The Gregorian dates for the ecclesiastical full moon come from the Gregorian tables. Therefore, the civil date of Easter depends upon which tables - Gregorian or pre-Gregorian - are used. The western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christian churches use the Gregorian tables; many eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches use the older tables based on the Julian Calendar.

In a congress held in 1923, the eastern churches adopted a modified Gregorian Calendar and decided to set the date of Easter according to the astronomical Full Moon for the meridian of Jerusalem. However, a variety of practices remain among the eastern churches.

There are three major differences between the ecclesiastical system and the astronomical system.

Inevitably, then, the date of Easter occasionally differs from a date that depends on the astronomical Full Moon and vernal equinox. In some cases this difference may occur in some parts of the world and not in others because two dates separated by the International Date Line are always simultaneously in progress on the Earth.

For example, take the year 1962. In 1962, the astronomical Full Moon occurred on March 21, UT=7h 55m - about six hours after astronomical equinox. The ecclesiastical full moon (taken from the tables), however, occurred on March 20, before the fixed ecclesiastical equinox at March 21. In the astronomical case, the Full Moon followed its equinox; in the ecclesiastical case, it preceded its equinox. Following the rules, Easter, therefore, was not until the Sunday that followed the next ecclesiastical full moon (Wednesday, April 18) making Easter Sunday, April 22.

Similarly, in 1954 the first ecclesiastical full moon after March 21 fell on Saturday, April 17. Thus, Easter was Sunday, April 18. The astronomical equinox also occurred on March 21. The next astronomical Full Moon occurred on April 18 at UT=5h. So in some places in the world Easter was on the same Sunday as the astronomical Full Moon.

The following are dates of Easter from 1980 to 2024:


1980  April 6        1995  April 16         2010  April 4

1981  April 19       1996  April 7          2011  April 24

1982  April 11       1997  March 30         2012  April 8

1983  April 3        1998  April 12         2013  March 31

1984  April 22       1999  April 4          2014  April 20

1985  April 7        2000  April 23         2015  April 5

1986  March 30       2001  April 15         2016  March 27

1987  April 19       2002  March 31         2017  April 16

1988  April 3        2003  April 20         2018  April 1

1989  March 26       2004  April 11         2019  April 21

1990  April 15       2005  March 27         2020  April 12

1991  March 31       2006  April 16         2021  April 4

1992  April 19       2007  April 8          2022  April 17

1993  April 11       2008  March 23         2023  April 9

1994  April 3        2009  April 12         2024  March 31

For other years, there is a date of Easter program in Data Services.

Computing the Date of Easter

The rule is that Easter is the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21. The lunar cycles used by the ecclesiastical system are simple to program. The following algorithm will compute the date of Easter in the Gregorian Calendar system.

The algorithm uses the year, y, to give the month, m, and day, d, of Easter. The symbol * means multiply.

Please note the following: This is an integer calculation. All variables are integers and all remainders from division are dropped. For example, 7 divided by 3 is equal to 2 in integer arithmetic.


    c = y / 100
    n = y - 19 * ( y / 19 )
    k = ( c - 17 ) / 25
    i = c - c / 4 - ( c - k ) / 3 + 19 * n + 15
    i = i - 30 * ( i / 30 )
    i = i - ( i / 28 ) * ( 1 - ( i / 28 ) * ( 29 / ( i + 1 ) )
        * ( ( 21 - n ) / 11 ) )
    j = y + y / 4 + i + 2 - c + c / 4
    j = j - 7 * ( j / 7 )
    l = i - j
    m = 3 + ( l + 40 ) / 44
    d = l + 28 - 31 * ( m / 4 )

For example, using the year 2010,
y=2010,
c=2010/100=20,
n=2010 - 19 x (2010/19) = 2010 - 19 x (105) = 15,   [see note above regarding integer calculations]
etc. resulting in Easter on April 4, 2010.

The algorithm is due to J.-M. Oudin (1940) and is reprinted in Richards, E.G. 2012,   "Calendars," Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, ed. P. K. Seidelmann (1992). See Chapter 12, "Calendars", by L. E. Doggett.

For further information on calendars, see Richards, E.G. 2012, "Calendars," from the Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, 3rd edition, S.E Urban and P.K. Seidelmann eds., (Mill Valley, CA: University Science Books), Chapter 15, pp. 585-624. An older description is also available in Doggett, L.E. 1992, "Calendars" in Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, 2nd edition, P.K. Seidelmann ed., (Mill Valley, CA: University Science Books), Chapter 12, pp. 575-608.