Trent Ernst, Editor
Welcome to Spring Break 2017. By the time you read this, it’ll be half over already, but at the time of this writing, it’s only just begun.
Of course, the name sounds much … warmer than it ever actually is. While the world has changed time around us. We’ve passed the equinox, that day when day and night are exactly equal. (While it is celebrated on March 20, for this area, March 17 was the day when the sun was out for exactly 12 hours. They call this equilux.)
This means that for the next three months, the days will be getting longer and longer, and for the next six, day will officially last longer than night does.
The reason for equinox being on March 20 has to do with Pope Gregory and his lasting gift to the world, the Gregorian calendar.
In 325, the First Council of Nicea declared that Easter was always to be held on a Sunday, and not dependent on a particular phase of the moon, which might occur on any day of the week.
But which Sunday?
Eastern Orthodox and other Syriac Christians always held their Easter festival on the Sunday after the Jews kept their Pesach, while elsewhere in the Roman Empire, Christians calculated the time of Easter for themselves, paying no attention to the Jews.
In some places, the first day of Passover, 14 Nisan (I know, I know, I’m simplifying) happened before the spring equinox, which went against the thinking of a certain group of scholars at the time that Easter must happen after the equinox.
The Council of Nicaea ruled that all churches should follow a single rule for Easter, which should be computed independently of the Jewish calendar, as at Alexandria. However, it did not make any explicit ruling about the details of the computation, and it was several decades before the Alexandrine computations stabilized into their final form, and several centuries beyond that before they became normative throughout Christendom.
Nearly 1200 years later, Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian Calendar in October, 1582.
The calendar was a refinement to the previous Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The new calendar made a 0.002 percent correction in the length of the year, which helped stop the calendar drift with respect to the equinoxes and of the calendar with respect to the equinoxes and solstices—particularly the vernal equinox, which set the date for Easter celebrations. Transition to the Gregorian calendar would restore the holiday to the time of the year in which it was celebrated when introduced by the early Church.
And that’s why March 20 marks the first day of spring.
Eastern Orthodox Christians still calculate the date for Easter based on the Julian Calendar.
Interestingly, in 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform of the method of determining the date of Easter, in an attempt to have both eastern and western churches celebrate Easter on the same date. At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, the Wold Council proposed that “Easter would be defined as the first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem.” The proposed reform would have been implemented starting in 2001, since in that year the Eastern and Western dates of Easter would coincide.
This reform has not been implemented. Discussions on unifying the date that Easter is celebrated are ongoing, and in the next decade we may see a fixed date for Easter.
If that happened, schools could, if they chose to, schedule spring break around a fixed date Easter, which would be a few weeks later (this year, it is on April 16, for both Eastern and Western Christians), rather than around the first day of spring, which was set to help determine what day Easter was in the first place.
When you look at the history of Easter and the spring equinox, it makes the arguments around daylight savings time dull.