Whether you’re a practicing Christian or just a Lindt bunny aficionado, if you’ve never been to Cyprus during this time of year before, you may suddenly start to notice something odd going on. The nightly news on PIK1 last week was full of colorful shots of Venice, Rio, and New Orleans, all in the midst of their carnivals – historically, the last chance for excess and debauchery before hunkering down for Lent. But no word about the Limassol Carnival, which this year won’t be starting til March 3.
What I’d never realised, until one of my earlier trips to Cyprus, was that Orthodox Christians and Western denominations don’t always celebrate Easter on the same day, which means that the start of Lent can also vary. Some years the Easters coincide, as they did in 2014, but this year they will be a whole five weeks apart, being celebrated on:
- March 27 – West Side
- May 1 – East Side
When in Rome (or Constantinople) ?
This “double Easter” can be a bit confusing for tourists and expats who aren’t Orthodox. Firstly, it can mean feeling out of sync with a culture you are already trying hard to assimilate with – most years there won’t be that general holiday build-up to “your Easter” as you might expect back home, let alone the same traditions you are used to. And there also won’t be days off from work for you (or off school for the kids) if the dates don’t concur.
Though some expats may choose to tune-out the “Orthodox noise” and stick to what they know, for me and other foreigners who have friends and family here it’s a bit trickier. We know that as much as a month after our palm fronds, chocolate eggs, and bunny decorations have all been put away, that’s about when we’ll be getting that invitation to Easter 2.0 with the extended family.
What’s more, some denominations in Cyprus take a “when in Rome approach” and change their dates to coincide. While it is a nice ecumenical gesture, many expats then end up celebrating on a different day from families back home, creating even more confusion, and not everyone has been keen on the idea.
Why two Easters?
To calculate Easter, you need the Computus – the highly complicated, official formula that everyone has used since the Middle Ages. The stripped down version is:
Easter = The first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or after the vernal equinox
The problem is no one can agree on what any of the variables should be.
- “First Sunday” is up for debate because Western Churches use the Gregorian Calendar, whereas the Orthodox Church uses the older Julian Calendar.
- In the West, churches use the date of the ecclesiastical full moon (the 14th day of the ecclesiastical month), while in the East they use the actual, astronomical full moon.
- Similarly, rather than using the actual vernal equinox, which has natural variations, like the Orthodox Church, in the West the date of the equinox has been set to always fall on March 21.
And as a bonus:
Because the Crucifixion took place after Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover, the Eastern Orthodox Church’s calculation also takes the Jewish holiday’s date into account, but for Western denominations Easter can sometimes fall before Passover.
Can’t we all just get along?
There have been numerous attempts throughout the 20th, and now 21st, Century to bring all churches towards celebrating Easter under one date – the latest of which was just last month. Essentially, many people think that having two Easters undermines the religion’s unity and lessens the credibility of its beliefs.
But I, for one, have come to the opposite opinion: Maybe Easter is just so awesome it needs more than one day for it to get done right? Plus, I am very much looking forward to doubling-up on celebrations and Easter meals this year… though perhaps not so much to doubling-up on Lent.