diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 27, 2016

Isn't Easter early this year?

Well, yes and no. Easter was the earliest you'll ever know back in 2008, when eggs were unwrapped on Sunday 23rd March. But 27th March is still pretty early for Easter, if you dig back into the data. Here, for example, are all the occasions that Easter has been on 27th March or earlier over the last 100 years.
March 22nd: -
March 23rd: 2008
March 24th: 1940
March 25th: 1951
March 26th: 1967, 1978, 1989
March 27th: 1921, 1932, 2005, 2016
That's just 6% of Easters earlier than March 27th, and only 10% on March 27th or earlier.

Here's how the rest of March pans out over the same period.
March 28th: 1937, 1948,
March 29th: 1959, 1964, 1970
March 30th: 1975, 1986, 1997
March 31st: 1918, 1929, 1991, 2002, 2013
As you can see, approximately speaking, the later the dates get the more Easters there are. And this is because Easter is defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The first full moon after March 21st isn't normally in March, it's more normally in April, this by a factor of at least 2 to 1. And once you've had that full moon, you then have to wait until the next Sunday ticks round, which could be the next day, or could be a full 7 days later. With all these astronomical aspects nudging the date, it's no wonder Easters in March are on the rarer side.

To show you what I mean, here's a table showing every year in the 21st century, with all the March Easters shaded yellow. The top row is 2001 to 2010, in which you can see there were three March Easters, one on the 31st in 2002, one on the 27th in 2005 and one on the 23rd in 2008. This year's March Easter is in bold.
2001-2010 31  27  23  
2011-2020  31  27    
2021-2030   31  28   
2031-2040 28  25     
2041-2050  29  25    
2051-2060   29    30 
2061-2070 26  29    30
2071-2080  26       
2081-209030  26 31    
2091-2100 30    31   
There's a pleasing diagonal pattern here, this because Easter Sunday is often on the same day 11 years apart. There's an oddity whereby March Easters are much more likely in the first half of a decade than the second, but that's a complete coincidence so read nothing into it. March Easters are also rare in years ending in 8, 9, 0 or 1, but quite common in years ending in 2, but this too is a 21st century coincidence. Note that the longest possible gap between March Easters is eight years, for example between 2016 and 2024, or between 2035 and 2043. The shortest gap is usually three years, but can be just two, as for example between 2084 and 2086. Easter is never in March in two consecutive years.

Counting up the yellow squares, there are 22 March Easters in the 21st century, which is 22% of the total. To get a more accurate percentage you have to consider Easters over a longer period, specifically 5,700,000 years, which is the period over which the Gregorian Easter Cycle repeats. Tot that up to discover (top fact!) that Easter falls in March 23.625% of the time. More relevantly for this year, it falls on March 27th or earlier almost precisely 10% of the time. So yes, it is an early Easter, only one in ten come this early in the year.

And here's something else to consider. World religions are currently consulting on fixing the date of Easter rather than letting it wander around the calendar willy nilly. The Archbishop of Canterbury says he think it might actually happen sometime in the next five to ten years, if the current willingness to act can ever be universally agreed. He says the unified date would be "on the second or third Sunday in April", indeed there's a basis in English law to fix Easter as "the Sunday following the second Saturday in April". That would restrict Easter to a very narrow period, specifically 9th-15th April inclusive, allowing schools and courts and the general workforce to stick to a much more regular holiday calendar every year. And it would also mean that Easter never fell in March ever again.

Here are the next four years that Easter is currently scheduled to fall in March.
2024: 31st March
2027: 28th March
2032: 28th March
2035: 25th March
That's a March Easter in 8 years, 11 years, 16 years and 19 years time. If the Archbishop and the Pope get their way, and Easter really is fixed in the next ten years, then 2024 may see the last March Easter of all time. If things go faster and the change takes less than eight years, then 2024 won't happen, and the very last March Easter will be today. Even if things don't move that quickly, and the change takes nearer 20 years, then Easter in 2035 will be 15th April rather than 25th March, and there'll never again be an earlier Easter than today.

Think on that as you look out of the window at the miserable weather and wish that Easter was in April instead. It might just be, for evermore, after the last March Easter today.

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