The Very First Easter Was Today In 31 AD, According To Dionysius Exiguus

By | March 23, 2021

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, fresco by Piero della Francesca, 1463. (Museo Civico di Sansepolcro/Wikimedia Commons)

Pretty much every culture celebrates the arrival of flowers, babies, and everything else that comes with spring. Pagans celebrate a time of renewal, those of the Jewish faith celebrate the history and the hope symbolized by the Exodus from Egypt during Passover, and Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with magic rabbits, chocolate eggs, and a lot of candy. What's up with that?

Where Did Easter Come From?

Theoretically, the first Easter occurred in 31 C.E., although Biblical scholars will argue forever about exactly when the resurrection occurred. Whatever the case, much of the festivities, including their timing, have roots in the pagan celebration of Eostre, honoring the goddess of the same name, though Christians put a distinctly puritan spin on things. Eostre celebrations, which occurred on the vernal equinox, traditionally involved wine, orgies, and other celebrations of fertility that happened to let those ancient pagans get their freak on.

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A faithful reproduction of a portrait of Dionysius Exiguus. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Who Decided When Easter Is?

Calculating the date of Easter isn't as simple as planting a flag in December 25 or October 31. The holiday somewhat complicatedly falls directly after the first full moon of the spring equinox, or the Paschal full moon. This formula was created by the Council of Nicaea, who determined that almost every Easter between 1600 to 2900 will fall on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. The whole thing was overseen by the monk Dionysius Exiguus, who also dated Christ's birth as December 25.

Prior to computers and calendars, Dionysius calculated the dates of 95 future Easters between 532 and 626 using the Metonic 19-year lunar cycle. Through a combination of the Metonic and Cryillian tables, he created a set of rules that determine the perfect day to hold Easter celebrations, handing down a final and much-needed consensus on one of the most important feasts of the ecclesiastical calendar.