Easter time a headache for Church and business globally

As millions of Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, many Christian groups in other parts of the world will be celebrating on different dates. /Getty Images / Dondi Tawatao
As millions of Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, many Christian groups in other parts of the world will be celebrating on different dates. /Getty Images / Dondi Tawatao

Each year Easter is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of disruption for business and there is upheaval as people take holidays before everyone can settle down again to a normal working life.

Well not everyone. The church has an Easter problem which it wants to resolve. The problem is that Easter does not fall on the same date for all Christians. This is causing a political problem for the Christian church because it wants to project an international image of Christian unity.

A particular problem exists among Christian groups in the Middle East where Easter is known as Pascha. The problem is largely mathematical.

What happened was that the New Testament indicates that Christ's death and resurrection were historically associated with the Jewish Passover, but the precise details are not clear.

By the end of the second century some churches celebrated Easter/Pascha on the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of the day of the week, others celebrated it on the following Sunday.

Then followed an Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325AD where it was determined that Easter/Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the March equinox. That is why the dates of Easter vary each year; they are dependent on the Moon.

By the 6th century the mode of calculation based on the studies of Alexandrian astronomers had gained universal acceptance.

But by the 16th century the discrepancy between this mode of calculation and the contemporary observed astronomical dates was becoming evident.

In fact, the difference was about 13 days, so in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in which he dropped out the problem days.

There were riots in the streets because people said that the pope had stolen nearly two weeks of their life - they all got two weeks older in 24 hours.

In the meantime, the folks in the eastern part of the world stuck with the Julian calendar.

This meant that in some years Easter and Pascha fell on the same dates, but at other times they were weeks apart.

It is this differential in dates which has always been the problem, but which is becoming a more evident problem now, as the world shrinks due to rapid international travel.

As far back as 1920 a church encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople again referred to the problem.

At about the same time, in business circles in Western Europe, there were discussions about trying to tie Easter down to a fixed date, such as the Sunday following the second Saturday in April.

This was to facilitate factory production, and the planning of longer-term business contracts. It is difficult for business when Easter can vary by weeks from year to year.

The stars foretold 2019 Easter to be on April 22. Last year it was April 1, and next year it will be April 12. This is a significant shift.

This has caused problems over the years, for example, for the people who run timeshare schemes and have to keep reorganising each year for tenants who own "Easter Weeks".

In recent years concrete steps have been taken in the Middle East where Christians of so many traditions live closely together, generally as religious minorities. The Middle East Council of Churches has been particularly active in encouraging the celebration of Easter/Pascha on a common day.

In 1997 it was proposed that they all try to do something in 2001 because in that year Easter fell on the same day for everyone, but that opportunity went past.

This year the Easter date of April 20 can be compared to the Pascha date of April 28.

In 2025 they coincide again on April 20 for both. What a mix of maths and politics.

*Kemm is a nuclear physicist and CEO of Nuclear Africa, a project management company in Pretoria. He does consultancy work in strategic development.