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Easter Eggs
Three women holding armfuls of large Easter eggs, circa 1925 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Easter's Ever-Changing Date and the People Who Tried to Fix It

Apr 05, 2015

This year, Easter falls on April 5 — but, as those who celebrate the major Christian holiday will know, the day doesn't stay in one place for long. Easter is one of the "moveable feasts," a holiday that falls on a different calendar date each year. It's calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.

Though the beginning of spring generally happens around the same time every year — the church uses March 21 as the date — the lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar don't match up, which means the timing of the full moon can change quite a bit. (This year, that full moon came on April 4.) Easter thus has about a month's worth of time in which to move around.

That system worked for hundreds of years, but as Easter became not only a religious holiday, but also an occasion for sales, shopping and parades, the mobility of the fête began to cause a problem.

Stocking Easter goodies and planning projected profits is difficult to do when the calendar moves around, and even more so if you use Easter to mark the start of the whole shopping season. So in 1926, a group of storekeepers came up with a solution: fix the date. Not fix as in "make better"; fix as in "fix in place."

As TIME explained on Feb. 1 of that year:

This inconstancy of Eastertide has irritated money-grubbing merchants, who long have surreptitiously, indirectly exported the spirited, springtime surge of joy, light and purity felt by celebrants. People have stepped from decorating their altars to decking their bodies, until the Easter Sunday “parade” of fashionables and fops gets more notice in the lay press than does the sanctity of the holiday. This display of clothes and flowers and jewels and carriages, wily merchandisers have gloated over. None the less they have peered with squinted eye at the fluctuating date of the festival, even as they touted a robe as “hot from N’ York, lady,” or “new from Paris, madame.”

Last week the Manhattan Merchants’ Association stepped into the clear; advocated a constant Easter; stated in a bulletin that the second Sunday in April “will be” the date it believes will be adopted; said further: “A late Easter often proves disastrous to sellers of many lines of merchandise because it shortens the spring season, thereby reducing the volume of business, while the lengthened winter season is of little benefit. With the adoption of a fixed date, all such difficulties will disappear.

The church's response to the proposal? "Clergymen," TIME reported, "were vexed." Nearly 90 years later we know that there was no need for such vexation: Though TIME didn't follow up on the story, Easter is still moving around the same way it always has.

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