Each year, people check their calendars to find out when Easter will take place because it changes every year — but nearly a century ago, the UK passed a law fixing the date. It’s just that the law has never been enforced.

Despite the fact that nailing a person to a cross and killing them is the sort of thing that tends to happen on a fixed day, the Easter holiday to mark “Killing Jesus Day” has wobbled around the calendar like a drunkard trying to get home.

Basically, Jesus coming back to life was thought to have taken place on the third day (inclusive) after the beginning of the Jewish Passover. However, although by the 2nd century, many Christians had chosen to observe Easter only on a Sunday, in the Jewish lunisolar calendar the date of Passover kept changing — and that caused problems for the Christians.

Eventually, the Christian Church broke the link with the Hebrew calendar, defining the date of Easter as the first full moon following the March equinox – and while the date of Easter still wobbled around, at least it was a fully Christian wobble. Barring the occasional changes to realign earthly calendars with celestial annoyances, Easter has been wobbling around the calendar ever since.

For centuries, this wasn’t really a problem, but an increasingly modern and regulated society that lived by the clock and the calendar started to find the wobbling Easter to be increasingly annoying.

So much so that in the 1920s, the League of Nations set up a “Special committee of enquiry into the reform of the calendar” with representatives of all the major Christian denominations. In 1926, it reported back that “the question of the stabilisation of Easter was ripe for action” and that most of the denominations were generally in favour of the Sunday following the second Saturday in April.

The Church of England and the Orthodox churches were in agreement, so long as everyone else also agreed, and the report noted that talk of fixing the date had been “met with considerable enthusiasm in the United States”.

(The committee also recommended a 13-month calendar, but let’s gloss over that)

With momentum building internationally, the UK government moved ahead and in 1928, the UK passed a law fixing the date of Easter.

Under the provisions of the Easter Act 1928, signed into law by King George V on 3rd August 1928, Easter Sunday should always take place on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

That means in 2024, the Easter weekend should run between 12th and 15th April.

But quite clearly, it doesn’t.

The reason we don’t have a fixed date is down to Clause 2.2 in the Act.

“This Act shall commence and come into operation on such date as may be fixed by Order of His Majesty in Council, provided that, before any such Order in Council is made, a draft thereof shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and the Order shall not be made unless both Houses by resolution approve the draft either without modification or with modifications to which both Houses agree, but upon such approval being given the order may be made in the form in which it has been so approved: Provided further that, before making such draft order, regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body.”

(emphasis mine)

So, the law has been passed, and normally a new law comes into effect the day it receives Royal Assent, but it’s not unusual for an Act to include a deferment to allow it to come into effect later when some other condition has been complied with. When all the conditions are complied with, the government issues a commencement order which then brings the Act into effect.

The act fixing the date of Easter includes a clause that the law can only come into effect when the Christians approve, so we need to wait for the Church(es) to agree that having a fixed date for Easter is a good idea.

We’ve been waiting 96 years for the law to be enforced.

It’s not that there haven’t been attempts to activate the clause, and periodically, debates and questions have been held in Parliament as to when we’re finally going to apply some glue to the date.

In fact, the lingering oddity of the Easter Act 1928 being on the statute books but not having commenced crops up quite often in Parliamentary debates as an example of why a particular new law should, or more usually, should not, have a commencement order of its own.

In 1999, there was even a full debate on the issue in the House of Lords, where The Lord Bishop of Oxford said that “the Christian Churches worldwide are currently taking new steps to agree a common but not a fixed date for Easter”, arguing that in 1928, a break between the religious holiday and the secular one was more acceptable than it might be today.

The fixed date of Easter was even cited in the most contentious of recent issues – Brexit – in a debate on repealing EU laws, Lord Callanan noted that “having provisions that do nothing on the statute book is not harmful. Indeed, the Easter Act 1928, which was never commenced, continues to sit on the statute book with no effect and causes no harm.”

Away from the UK Parliament, the Churches have been discussing the issue as well, and in 2016, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, suggested that fixing the date of Easter could happen within a decade.

The Telegraph reported that the primates of the Anglican Communion had agreed to join talks, initiated by the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, on fixing a date for Easter. Pope Francis signalled earlier this year that he would also be open to the idea.

We’re still waiting, but if they get their act together, we could celebrate the centenary of the passing of the Fixed Easter Act with an actual fixed date for Easter.

In the meantime, enjoy your Hot Cross Buns and Easter Eggs – on the wrong day.

Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash


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  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    We use the first SUNDAY on or after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

    That leaves the highly odd idea of a Easter Saturday which has no biblical prescient (as the Jewish day off is Saturday).

    • David C says:

      Easter Saturday is the Saturday AFTER EaSTER (folowing Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday etc.) The day after Good Friday is known by Christians as Holy Saturday, and by other people as the Saturday before Easter, or just ‘Saturday’!

    • John Airey says:

      This means Easter Sunday can fall between March 22nd and April 25th. On a similar note a proposal to abolish daylight savings across Europe was accepted by almost all countries but nothing has been done about that either. We have a sunrise service in Central Park in Peterborough on Easter Sunday at 6:30 but I suspect we will be there well before sunrise because of the clock change this year

  2. NG says:

    “Too late” – in a sense.
    Surely, it should be that “Bad Friday” is the first Friday in April …?
    Making Eostre Moonday sometime between the 3rd & the 9th?

  3. Ganesh Sittampalam says:

    “regard shall be had” doesn’t mean they get a veto legally, does it? I suspect it’s more that the government just doesn’t want to get into a fight.

  4. Christopher Fox-Walker says:

    The task of aligning the lunar and solar cycles accounts for the moving feast of Easter. Lunar cycle is 19 years. The solar cycle is 28 years.

  5. Local Lad says:

    Back in 1963 the Council known as Vatican II issued a Declaration of its willingness to support such a change. Next step?

  6. Trevor Mann says:

    Thanks Ian. I have learnt something today and haven’t even got out of bed yet

  7. Reaper says:

    “Government fails to enforce law” – no change there in almostone hundred years there then.

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