This Year, Ash Wednesday Is On Valentine's Day and Easter Is On April Fools' Day

Maria Carter
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Woman's Day

Don't be surprised if the Easter Bunny plays a few pranks in 2018-the Christian holiday falls on April 1, aka April Fool's Day, this year. Ash Wednesday is pulling double-duty too, sharing a calendar date with Valentine's Day this February. It's the first time this odd occurrence has appeared on the calendar since 1945.

The coincidence has left many people wondering why Easter falls on a different date each year, anyway. Most Christians know Ash Wednesday's date depends on Easter's, but wouldn't it be much simpler (and easier to remember) if Jesus Christ's resurrection were celebrated on a set day, the way holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day are observed? Here's a look at why that's not the case.

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Ash Wednesday

For Catholics, Ash Wednesday signals the period of 40 days before Easter, called Lent, when observants typically "give up" some earthly pleasure (wine, chocolate) as a form of penance. The holiday stems from the Old Testament book of Daniel's "association of fasting with ashes," according to priest and Duke Divinity School professor Lauren F. Winner.

Its main ritual involves a priest invoking Genesis 3:19 ("for you are dust, and to dust you shall return") while anointing congregants' foreheads with a mix of ash from Palm Sunday-itself derived from the story of Christ's route to Jerusalem being padded by palm fronds-and sometimes oil. Lent is an acknowledgment of the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness. Since Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent, its date is always exactly 46 days before Easter (fasting is not observed on Sundays during Lent) and thus is affected directly by what date Easter falls on that year.

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Easter

Which brings us to our central question: Why is Easter on a different date each year? The holiday, which celebrates Christ's return from the grave following his crucifixion, usually occurs between March 22 and April 25. It's set to coincide with the March Equinox, a day when the sun shines directly on the equator and the majority of earth experiences nearly equal hours of sunlight and nighttime, which signals the start of spring in the norther hemisphere. Because Christ's death and resurrection happened after the Jewish Passover, which is celebrated on the first full moon after the equinox, early Christians wanted Easter to always take place following Passover, according to ThoughtCo. To make a long answer short, Easter falls on a different date each year because it, like Passover, is tied to solar and lunar cycles.

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