Its variable date is a needless headache in our lives, schools and economyby Andrew Dow / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
It may seem premature to be thinking about Easter already, but, as we look ahead through the calendar of 2011, it’s clear that the rationale behind the date of this annual public holiday is in urgent need of attention.
At present, the date that the western churches (as opposed to the eastern Orthodox ones) celebrate Easter can fall on any Sunday within a 35-day range between 22nd March and 25th April. In 2011, it will fall just one day short of the latest day possible: Sunday 24th April—proving a costly headache for businesses, schools and parents. The timing means that the gap between the first public holiday of the year, new year’s day, and the next, is going to be a long, stress-inducing 16 weeks, or 112 days. This is only a few days shorter than the August bank holiday-to-Christmas marathon which most people, especially teachers, regard as a killer. And when Easter Monday finally arrives, it will be just four days ahead of another four-day holiday, thanks to the royal wedding on 29th April. This itself will be separated by only four weeks from the spring bank holiday on 30th May.
During this period, work schedules are likely to be so disrupted that the country might as well stop working altogether. Drawing up sensible school timetables, to cohere with public examination dates, will be a nightmare for the education authorities—especially when you factor in the inevitable pupil absenteeism rate during the first, three-day week of the summer term, sandwiched between two four-day bank holidays. Spare a thought, too, for the leisure and holiday industry: normally Easter marks the start of their “season.” The fourth week of April is far too late, depriving them of up to three weeks of much-needed income. It’s estimated that the timing of the two long weekends will cost the economy as a whole some £4bn.
Why is the date of Easter so irregular? It’s tied to the Jewish Passover, which is determined by the lunar calendar, rather than our stable solar one. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox (20th or 21st March), and if the full moon falls on a Sunday, then Easter is the next Sunday. This can often mean that Easter comes inconveniently early too. As recently as 2008 it fell…