April 5, 2015 6:00 AM EDT 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.”
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.
The Most Surprising Photos of Pope Francis The wind lifts Pope Francis' mantle as he delivers his speech in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, on Sept. 26, 2015. Tony Gentile—AP Pope Francis looks at the Statue of Liberty from the window of a helicopter on his way to the John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York City, on Sept. 26, 2015. L'Osservatore Romano/AP A Pope Francis mannequin rides around in a car in Times Square as New York City waits for the arrival of the Pope to the city, on Sept. 24, 2015. Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images Kaydn Dorsey, 4, and Lionel Perkins, 4, draw on a coloring sheet bearing the image of Pope Francis as they wait for him to arrive on a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington in Washington, on Sept. 24, 2015. David Goldman—Reuters Nuns with the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy in Pleasantville, N.J., pose for a selfie with a cutout of Pope Francis, at the World Meeting of Families conference, in Philadelphia, on Sept. 22, 2015. Matt Rourke—AP Pope Francis blows out the candles of a birthday cake to celebrate his 78th birthday during a general audience at the Vatican on Dec. 17, 2014. Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images Paying the bill at Rome's Domus Internationalis Paulus VI hotel, where Pope Francis stayed as a cardinal before entering the conclave and being elected pope. Osservatore Romano/AP Welcoming Pope emeritus Benedict XVI as he returns to the Vatican from the pontifical summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. Osservatore Romano/AP Holding a disabled child after celebrating Easter Mass. Alessandro di Meo—ANSA/Zuma Press Pope Francis masks in a factory in Brazil, where the Pontiff took his first overseas trip. Christophe Simon—AFP/Getty Images Leading the Worldwide Eucharistic adoration at the Vatican. Alessandra Benedetti—Corbis A gust of wind blows the pope's mantle. Alessandra Tarantino—AP Attending the opening of the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome. Stefano Rellandini—Reuters Leaving a welcoming ceremony at Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro. Ricardo Moraes—Reuters Greeting the weekly General Audience. Stefano Rellandini—Reuters Pointing to the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida from the balcony of the Aparecida basilica in Brazil. Domenico Stinellis—AP A Catholic faithful in Brazil bears a sticker of Pope Francis on his forehead. Ueslei Marcelino—Reuters Images of Pope Francis projected onto screens at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Paulo Whitaker— Reuters Departing Rio de Janeiro. Ricardo Moraes—Reuters A stray dog walks across the stage near the altar where Pope Francis celebrates the World Youth Day's closing Mass on the Copacabana beachfront. Victor R. Caivano—AP Listening to confessions of young people in a park in Rio de Janeiro. L'Osservatore Romano—EPA Posing with youths in Saint Peter's Basilica. L'Osservatore Romano—EPA Greeting the faithful on a rainy day during the General Audience. Fabio Frustaci—Eidon Press/Zuma Press Arriving to lead his General Audience in a firefighter's helmet. Stefano Rellandini—Reuters A quiet moment after meeting with Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo at the Vatican. Max Rossi—Reuters Marking the 110th anniversary UNITALSI, a Catholic organization dedicated to helping the sick. Francesco Zizola—NOOR for TIME A private Audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin. L'Osservatore Romano/AP Keeping warm during a General Audience. Alessandra Tarantino—AP Comforting a disfigured man at the end of his General Audience. Claudio Peri—EPA Blessing a sick man with deformed facial features. Evandro Inetti—Zuma Press Visiting the parish of the Sant'Alfonso Maria de Liguori during the Epiphany day. L'Osservatore Romano—AFP/Getty Images Reacting to devotees at a weekly General Audience. Alessandro Bianchi—Reuters A seagull attacks a dove released during a prayer conducted by Pope Francis.
Alessandro Bianchi—Reuters A scarf is tossed at Pope Francis by a faithful. Tony Gentile—Reuters Italian artist Mauro Pallotta's superhero rendering of Pope Francis in a street near St. Peter's Basilica. Alessandra Benedetti—Corbis Blowing a kiss to pilgrims gathered at Saint Peter's Square. Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images Meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the private library of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Vatican Pool/Contrasto/Redux With Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the Vatican. Alessandra Benedetti—Vatican Pool/Corbis A wind gust lifts Pope Francis's mantle as he arrives at the traditional Washing of the Feet during Holy Thursday. Alberto Pizzoli—AFP/Getty Images Kissing a man's at the traditional Washing of the Feet. Alberto Pizzoli—AFP/Getty Images Visitors take photos of Pope Francis as he speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Michael Sohn—AP More Must-Reads From TIME Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets Meet the 2024 Women of the Year East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does Column: The New Antisemitism The 13 Best New Books to Read in March Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time