While in 2016 we all enjoyed a four-day weekend to celebrate Easter Sunday on March 27, over half a million Australians of the Orthodox faith will celebrate theirs on May 1st. Each year the date of both Catholic and Orthodox Easters change weekends and more often than not, the Orthodox happens later by some weeks. It might help the Easter Bunny as he doesn’t have to deliver eggs all on one day, but it does cause confusion in countries such as Australia which have a high population of those of the Catholic and Orthodox faith.
So despite believing in the same book, God and saviour, why do the Easter dates differ? Well it’s quite complicated and the split occurred over four centuries ago.
Julian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decided that the calendar needed an overhaul because it was slightly inaccurate mathematically. Thus, the Gregorian calendar – which we all have hanging on our walls today – was born.
As many of you would have learned in primary school, every four years we add an extra day (February 29th) in the calendar. This is due to the fact that it takes exactly 365.2425 days for the Earth to completely orbit the sun. So to make up for the remainder, we add the extra day. However if you’re good at maths, you’d realise 0.2425 is not exactly one quarter. So the 0.0075 (which equals just under 11 minutes) also needs to be taken into account. And it is. What most people don’t realise is there’s a leap year deleted from our calendar every time we hit a new century that isn’t divisible by 400. So for example, in the years 1600 and 2000 we did have leap years, but in 2100 and 2200 we won’t. Though most of us probably won’t be around to celebrate those!
Before 1582, the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) runs off the basis that the Earth’s orbit was exactly 365.25 days, thus they hadn’t deleted the extra February 29ths. This means the Julian calendar is currently 13 days behind (unless you read this post-2100, it will be 14 days by then). In fact, in 1582 Thursday October 4th was followed by Friday October 15th. So don’t bother looking up what happened on October 5 to 14 in 1582, those dates never occurred!
Dates of events from this time are even murkier as the calendar wasn’t adopted across the world nor was there an agreement on what the first day of the year was in different nations. For example New Years Day in England was March 25 pre-1751 while across the border in Scotland they changed to January 1 way back in 1600 (1599 in Scotland went for just nine months!). Some countries took centuries to switch to Gregorian as well, especially those in non-Catholic countries. Denmark waited until 1700, Great Britain 1752, Sweden 1753 while Russia didn’t change until 1918!
The March Equinox
While our autumn officially starts on March 1st, the date where we are exactly halfway between our longest daylight hours (the December Solace) to our smallest (June solstice) is actually March 20 or March 21. This is called the March Equinox. The opposite end of the year – when we are halfway between our shortest sunlight day and longest – is called the September equinox and is on September 20 or 21.
The Easter Date Algorithm
The Catholic Easter Sunday date (which countries such as Australia officially celebrate) is calculated by finding the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March Equinox. As full moons occur exactly every 29.5305882 days and therefore not exactly on the same date every month, the first full moon that is after March 20/21 could be anywhere up to April 18. If that happens to be a Monday, Easter would fall on it’s latest possible date: April 25. This happened in 1943 and will again in 2038. So ANZAC Day will be the same day as Easter Sunday, that could be a big bunch of public holidays for us all that week!
Why Is The Orthodox Easter Date Different?
The Orthodox Easter always falls later than the Catholic one as it is calculated using the same formula, but using the Julian Calendar (as we said above, this is currently 13 days behind the commonly used Gregorian).
Another factor also changes the Orthodox Easter date, the Orthodox Church still uses the rule set forth by the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325 AD, that says Pascha (Easter) must take place after the Jewish Passover. This takes place for a week and can start in a similar span of time as the Catholic Easter. Sometimes it crosses over.
So using those two factors, the Orthodox Easter can fall between early April and early May (2016 Orthodox Easter Sunday is May 1). So Orthodox Easter can be anywhere between one and four weeks after Catholic Easter.
Easter Sunday Upcoming Dates
As you can see in this table showing the next 10 Catholic and Orthodox Easter Sundays, they are usually different days but occasionally match such as in 2017 and 2025.
Orthodox Easter Traditions
- Holy/Great Thursday – This is a preparation day where Easter bread (tsoureki) is baked and eggs are dyed red. In the evening, church services have a rendition of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
- Holy/Great Friday – The holiest of days, flags are at half mast and church bells ring all day slowly while women and children take flowers to the church. The most devout don’t cook or make easy-to-prepare foods like beans or soup.
- Holy Great Saturday – In Greece, the military carry a flame which is distributed by priests to carry back to church. Preparations for Sunday’s big feast. A midnight service is held at church.
- Easter Sunday – Early in the morning cooking of the roasted lamb or goat begins. Much wine, Ouzo and other alcoholic beverages as well as food is consumed.
- Easter Monday – A day of recovery from Easter Sunday!
Traditional Orthodox Easter Treats
How Australian Orthodox Greeks celebrate Easter
One of the Orthodox Easter traditions is baking Greek Easter Biscuits (Koulourakia/κουλουράκια). For those who don’t know what Koulourakia is, they are a butter-based pastry which are traditionally shaped like snakes as ancient Greeks believed snakes had healing powers. The word ‘Koulouraka’ means a ring-shaped loaf or lifebelt. With an egg glaze on top, they have a sweet delicate flavor with hints of vanilla.
Easter Sunday being observed at a later date than the Easter date is known in the Orthodox faith as Pascha, as well as the Sunday of the Resurrection.
Many Orthodox Christians in Australia celebrate Pascha according to the Easter date in the Julian calendar. Easter is the most important event in the church calendar. The Easter Sunday church liturgies are joyous as they celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, according to Christian belief, as well as spiritual victory.
Many Orthodox Christians in Australia fast during Lent prior to Easter. Easter Sunday is a time for families and friends to get together for a festive meal, where meat and dairy products can be eaten again. Lamb and tsourekia (or tsoureki), which is a type of Easter bread, are popular Easter dishes in many Greek Orthodox communities in Australia.
Traditional Easter egg games are also popular. Each person takes a dyed red egg and tries to crack other challengers’ eggs. This game symbolises Jesus Christ breaking from his tomb. The person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year. Some people bring dyed Easter eggs to church to be blessed at the Easter liturgy.
The Orthodox Christian date for Easter Sunday is not a federal public holiday in Australia. However, it is held on a Sunday, which is a non-school day and non-working day for many Australians. Sunday trading hours still apply in areas where there is Sunday trading, particularly in major cities.
There are different types of Orthodox churches in Australia, including the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. There are many Greek Orthodox Christians in Australia. The federal government’s 2006 census recorded that there were 109,980 Greece-born people in Australia, with the largest numbers in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland. The census also showed that 100,460 Greece-born Australians are of the Eastern Orthodox faith.
Greek immigration has a rich history in Australia and began in the early days of the modern colonised days of our country in the 19th century. The first known Greeks arrived in 1829 consisting of seven sailors who were convicted of piracy by a British naval court and were sentenced to transportation to New South Wales.
Two of those seven stayed and settled in the country calling the Monaro Plains in Southern New South Wales their new homes once granted freedom. Their names were Andronicos and Jigger Bulgaris. Andronicos eventually went back to Greece while Jigger stayed and married a local woman from the Tinderry Ranges near Michelago and fathered many children.
The first known Greek migrant by choice to Australia was Katerina Georgia Plessos (1809–1907) who arrived in Sydney with her husband Major James Crummer in 1835. They lived in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Macquarie where she is buried. They had 11 children and considered the first wave of free Hellenic migrants commenced in the 1850s thanks to the discovery of gold in the country. By 190, the year of Australia’s federation, the Australian census recorded 878 native Greeks that were born in Greece and now living in Australia. Many of these Greeks were owners of or were employed in shops and restaurants. Some were also on the many sugar cane farms in Queensland.
From the last decade of the 1800s until WWI, the number of Greeks immigrating to Australia kept increasing and Hellenic communities were booming in Melbourne and Sydney. A Greek weekly newspaper was established which was was published in Melbourne.
Post WWII in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Greeks were one of the main European nations picked by the Australian government’s “populate or perish” immigration scheme and this saw thousands of Greeks migrating to Australia. They were promised a better life and future for themselves and their families. Greek populations in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide have since increased significantly.
The Census in 2016 noted 93,740 Greece-born people living in Australia while a total of 422,234 with Greek heritage of some sort. 42.9% of these people live in Victoria, 33.6% live in New South Wales, 9.56% in South Australia, 7.46% in Queensland, 3.7% in Western Australia, 1.2% in the Australian Capital Territory, 1.01% in the Northern Territory, and 0.59% in Tasmania. Nearly two-thirds (32.8%) of these were born here in Australia while one-third overseas, mostly back in Greece and Cyprus. The Greek community in Melbourne has 173,598 people, Sydney has 127,274 and Adelaide has 37,768 people of Greek descent.
Some Famous Greek Australians
Mark Bouris – managing director of Wizard
Andrew Demetriou – chief executive, Australian Football League
Nick Pappas – chairman, South Sydney Rabbitohs
Nick Politis – car retailer and chairman of the Sydney Roosters rugby league club
Alex Perry – fashion designer
Mary Coustas – comedian
Alex Dimitriades – actor
Nick Giannopoulos – actor and director
George Houvardas – actor
George Kapiniaris – actor and comedian
Peter Andre – singer, entertainer
Nick Xenophon – politician, South Australia
Ange Postecoglou – coach Socceroos, former player
Glen Lazarus – rugby league player Canberra Raiders, Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm
Mark Philippoussis – tennis player
Nick Kyrgios – tennis player
© Lantern Club, Roselands