Understanding the Calendrical and Religious Connection Between Passover and Easter

Matzoh ball soup is a popular dish on Passover.

By Anna Breuer on 14 April 2022
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It’s no mere coincidence that this year, for the third time since 2018,  the first night of Passover overlaps with Good Friday or that the second day of Passover is also Easter.

Both arrive together every spring, just like blossoming tulips, and have many commonalities and share profound connections.

Sometimes, however, when the holidays occur on the Gregorian calendar vary widely.  Why this is has largely to do with the moon and its phases.

While Easter is Christianity’s most solemn holiday, Passover is a joyous celebration of the Exodus, the story of how the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt and left for the promised land, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” as recalled in the bible, specifically in Shemot, or Exodus, Chapter 13, Verse 5.

Indeed, the origin of the phrase, “Let my people go,” comes directly from Shemot, Chapter 9, Verse 1, which Moses is commanded to say to Pharaoh.

The commemoration of Passover comes from Exodus Chapter 13, Verse 8: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, “Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt.”

Today Passover is celebrated with a festive holiday meal the first two nights known as a Seder.  Seder is the Hebrew word for “order” and a Seder follows a particular order that includes reciting a set order of psalms and prayers and the scripted retelling of the story of the Exodus, as well as the consumption of matzoh, or unleavened bread, in commemoration of how the Israelites left Egypt without having sufficient time to allow their bread to rise.

Easter, the more recent of the holidays, is tied to Passover in the New Testament and commemorates the Christian belief that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead after his crucifixion.  Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus shared a final meal, referred to as the Last Supper, with his disciples in Jerusalem, an occasion that is commemorated on Maundy Thursday.  The Last Supper was, in fact, a Passover Seder.

An additional connection, specifically in Romance languages, is rather explicit.  The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach.  In French, Easter is Paques, and in Italian it is Paqua.  The Greek word for Easter is Pascha, and many other languages simply render Pascha in transliterated form for Easter.  The word Easter is Germanic in origin and the modern German word for Easter is Ostern, which is believed to come from Ēastre, the name of  a goddess associated with spring.

Intrinsically, both holidays are about death, and about life.

Easter is of course about the belief that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead after his crucifixion.

The concept of Passover results from the belief that the homes of the Israelites were “passed over,” exempt from death when the Angel of Death was dispatched to kill the firstborn of Egypt, thanks to the blood of the Passover lamb that Moses commanded the Israelites to put upon the doorposts of their homes.

Although it seems that the two holidays overlap year in and year out, that’s actually not an accurate statement. Indeed, they are a month apart 15% of the time.

What causes the situation where, as was the case in 2016, Easter fell on March 27 and Passover started on April 22?   The discrepancy is due to the different calendars Jews and Christians use to set their respective holidays.

Jewish holidays are set by the lunar calendar, while most Christians set their holidays via the Gregorian calendar, which uses the sun (Eastern Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar, which also uses the sun but did not properly reflect the actual time it takes the earth to circle once around the sun, so each day of the Julian calendar occurs 13 days after its corresponding day on the Gregorian calendar).

[For the Eastern Orthodox, Easter in 2019 falls on April 28, one week after the day Roman Catholics and most Protestant churches celebrate it.]

Meanwhile, the Jewish month is on average 29.5 days long, and a lunar year is only 354 days so the Jewish calendar has to add a leap month every few years to keep a springtime holiday such as Passover in the correct season.

Another unusual occurrence besides the confluence of the first night of Passover and Good Friday is that the same thing occurred last year, in 2018, and such a pairing may not happen again for another 95 years.

When the two holidays do converge, which at 85% is more often than not, it makes life much easier for everything from schools that have to plan a recess for both Passover and Easter and families who plan to travel for the holidays, be it to visit relatives or travel to the Holy Land.

This article was first published on April 28, 2019 and has been updated to reflect the overlap of the two holidays in 2022.

Jonathan Spira contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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