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Why do Greeks Celebrate a Different Easter?

Although this is not the case every year (sometimes, Western Easter and Orthodox Easter fall on the same Sunday), more often than not Greek people celebrate Easter on a different date than other Christian denominations. Why is this the case?

To start off, the majority of Greek people are Greek Orthodox Christians (whether the majority practice the religion is a whole other topic). This means that Greece is a majority Christian nation. Orthodox Christianity traces its origins to the early Christian communities established in the Eastern Mediterranean region, particularly in the Byzantine Empire. If you're at all interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out. I think the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's website is a great resource for anyone keen to learn more.

The front of my church beautifully adorned with flowers during Holy Week 2023.

Greek Orthodox Christians, along with other Orthodox Christians, celebrate Easter on a different date than Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) due to differences in the calculation of the date of Easter. The discrepancy arises from the use of different calendars. Western Christians follow the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to reform the earlier Julian calendar. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar based on the Earth's orbit around the Sun. In contrast, the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the more dated Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. The Julian calendar is slightly different from the Gregorian calendar in its calculation of leap years and the length of the solar year.

Additionally, the Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different method, known as the Julian calendar reckoning of the Paschal full moon, to determine the date of Easter. This method sometimes results in a discrepancy of the date of Easter between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christian churches. As a result of these differences, Greek Orthodox Christians and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on a different date from Western Christians, with Easter typically falling on a later date. However, there are occasional years when Easter coincides for both Western and Eastern Christians due to the alignment of the lunar and solar cycles. This year, 2024, is a great example of this as Western Easter falls on April 1st while Orthodox Easter is celebrated on May 6th meaning that there is more than a monthlong gap between the two celebrations!

The beautifully-decorated Epitaphios (Greek: Ἐπιτάφιος) in my home church.

Growing up, I always had a hard time explaining to friends and classmates why I was celebrating Easter later than everyone else. Where I grew up, most people did not understand the differences between the Easter observances because I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania where Orthodoxy was a minority religion, meaning most of my classmates were Protestant or Catholic. My parents would write my brother and I excuses to miss school on Orthodox Good Friday so that we could observe the holiday and attend church. I remember getting frustrated with my high school on numerous occasions because administration would lackadaisically schedule events like sports and academic awards banquets on the date of Orthodox Easter without taking into consideration the fact that some students would be observing this holiday with their families, communities, and loved ones. Given the significance of the holiday and the special religious services, family gatherings, and traditions involved in the celebration of Orthodox Easter, it felt disrespectful to schedule school events the same day especially when the same was rarely, if ever, done for Western Easter.

Despite the difference in dates, the celebration of Easter remains a central and joyous event for all practicing Christians, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the culmination of the Lenten season... plus I can't complain about getting Easter candy and treats at discounted prices.


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