The origin of the word Easter

The origin of the word Easter comes from one or a combination of meanings in Old English or Old Norse 1. spring 2. from the name of a Norse goddess whose festival was celebrated at the spring equinox 3. to the east.
 
Given the proximity of the celebration pagan springtime festival with the celebration of the Christian Easter it is understandable how the name change could have occurred. A majority of England was not converted to Christianity until the 600s and a majority of Norway was not converted until after the 1000s.
 
Another word for Easter is Paschal. Paschal comes from the Hebrew word for Passover “Pesah”. This origin for the word for Easter comes from the early practice (as mentioned in yesterday’s post) of calculating the time for Easter based on the Jewish Passover holiday.

The date of Easter

Before 325, the date of Easter was calculated based on the Jewish Passover.  After the Council of Nicaea in 325, Easter was calculated independent of the Passover.  Generally Passover is only a few days before Easter but some years the two holidays are about a month apart.

It has been the general rule since at least the 700s that Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  However, the full moon is assumed to occur on the 14th day of the lunar month when it can actually occur +/- 0 to 2 days from that time.  Similarly the spring equinox is assumed in the calculation to always be March 21, when the equinox can also occur on the 19th or 20th as well.  These calculations yield a possible date range for Easter from March 22 to April 25.

The differences in the Julian and Gregorian calendars in determining Easter come from an error in the Julian calendar about the length of a year (the Julian year is .002% too long, gaining an extra 3 days every 4 centuries), and differences in how lunar months are calculated.  The Gregorian calendar is more precise and accurate than the Julian one.

The date of Easter

Easter in 2017 is celebrated on the same equivalent day for both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. (April 16th). Those two calendars will not share the same equivalent Easter again until 2025. (I say equivalent date because the two calendars are 13 days apart so looking at a wall calendar it would still be a different day but in terms of people in church on Sunday, celebrating Easter, it is the same day)
 
Over the last decade or so in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2011, 2014 Easter was on the same date for both calendars. It can also be that the Gregorian calendar has Easter in March and the Julian calendar has Easter in May. That circumstance occurred in 2002, 2005, 2013, and 2016. It will happen next in 2024.

There remains ongoing discussion to set Easter as a fixed date in early to mid-April. (So that both churches always celebrate Easter on the same equivalent day) Although the Eastern and Western churches are reported to be close to a deal, this sort of calendar deal has been elusive since the 10th century.

 

A bit about St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day.  St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick (380-461 A.D.)  He was one of the first Christian missionaries to Ireland and he was later the Bishop of Ireland.  The shamrock is both a symbol of St. Patrick and Ireland.

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with baked goods (cakes, cookies, etc), parties and parades.  St. Patrick’s Day cards are exchanged among family and friends.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. was in Boston in 1737.  Now more than 120 cities in the U.S. have St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Old Inauguration Day

Happy Old Inauguration Day!
 
From 1793 to 1933, March 4th was Inauguration Day. With the passage of the 20th Amendment the inauguration date was changed to January 20th.
 
The shortest inauguration speech was George Washington’s second inaugural speech (only 133 words long)
 
William H. Harrison’s 1840 speech was by far the longest at 8,445 words long and was delivered in cold, rainy, weather without a coat and he caught pneumonia and died about a month later. (Taft’s 5,433 word speech is in distant second place).
 
A typical speech is between 1,500 and 2,500 words long.
 
In 1853, Franklin Pierce delivered a 3,329 word speech entirely from memory.
 
Since the start of the 20th century, only Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover have given speeches longer than 3,000 words. Also since the start of the 20th century, only Teddy Roosevelt in 1905 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 have given speeches less than 1,000 words.
 
Note that presidents inaugurated at other times of the year (not March or January) have given shorter or non-existent speeches.

Truce of God and Lent

During the middle ages Lent was one of the times of year that it was hard to be a knight looking to smite something.  To help make life more peaceful the church had instituted the “Truce of God”.  It was against the rules to fight on truce days.  All of Lent (and always Sundays) fell under the “Truce of God” whereby it was considered sinful for knights to engage in warfare on those days.

March 2 Pretzels

“Invented” by the Romans, pretzels are a traditional Lenten food that used to be only eaten this time of year.  Pretzels were popularized for Lent because of the fasting requirement to eat no fat.  Pretzels are basically water, flour, and salt.  Ash Wednesday marked the first day that the pretzel vendors would appear in places like Germany, Austria, and Poland.  Of course nowadays pretzels are sold year round.

March 1 Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Since the seventh century it has marked the start of Lent.  The first day of Lent has been called Ash Wednesday since 1099.  Lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that refers to the lengthening of days and the coming of spring.

Lent is a fast of 40 days (not including Sundays) that runs from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter).  Originally the fast was just from Good Friday to Easter.  During the third and fourth century a 40 day fast was adopted.

This fast meant not eating certain foods (generally dairy, meat and fat), only drinking water, and only eating one meal later in the day.  Over 1000 years the time of this meal slid from late in the day to not eating anything until the None hour (the ninth hour of the Roman day which corresponds to 3 pm), to not eating anything until noon.  (The Roman ninth hour is the origin of the word noon).  With the Reformation some Protestants gave up Lenten fasting and others did not.  Many Christians now observe some form of fasting or giving up a particular food during Lent.

The imposition of ashes as a sign of penance is a custom that is referred to in the Old Testament.  It was officially adopted by Christians in the fourth century, although there are written references to it from before then.

In the middle ages people who were undergoing penance would not attend church after Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday).  In the meantime they would undertake fasting and wear coarse sackcloth clothing.  They would stay at a monastery or similar place and pray and perform manual labor and works of charity.

Originally imposition of ashes was only for those undergoing the penance described above.  By 1100 it was possible for faithful Christians who were not undergoing penance to just receive the imposition of ashes.  With the Reformation most Protestant churches did away with the imposition of ashes.  Starting in the 20th century many Protestant churches revived the custom of the imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday.

February 28 Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday. It marks the culmination of the carnival season. The carnival season is generally the week before Lent. The word carnival is similar to the word carnivore. Carnival refers to the festive period before Lent begins and meat can no longer be consumed. Now the definition of carnival is broader and can refer to just a general festive gathering with games and amusements.

Mardi Gras takes place on Shrove Tuesday. Although there are many Mardi Gras parades leading up to Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is French for fat Tuesday and refers to the practice of using up fat in cooking to make a feast.

Shrove Tuesday is followed by Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent. Lent is often marked with fasting or abstaining from certain foods. Pancakes are a traditional food to eat on Shrove Tuesday. There are many ethnic varieties of pancakes that are very rich and high in fat in the recipe. Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day.

The name Shrove Tuesday refers to being shriven or confessing sins. Lent used to be a penitential period where people would wear sackcloth clothing, fast, and do penance for their sins. These aspects have moderated in recent times compared to a couple hundred years ago. Although for many people Lent is a time of much prayer and reflection.

Shrovetide refers to the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

February 27 Collop Monday

Collop Monday

Today is Collop Monday. Collop Monday is the lesser-known companion to Shrove Tuesday. It is traditional to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday because of the custom of giving up fat in cooking for Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday). Collop is a word from 15th century England that refers to bacon and eggs. Collop Monday is the last day to eat bacon and eggs before Lent. Collop Monday is rarely observed as most fasting for Lent is less austere than it was a few hundred years ago.

February 26 About Collop Monday

Everyone is aware of Shrove Tuesday and the custom of eating pancakes on that day.  Far fewer people are aware of Collop Monday.  Traditionally the Monday before the start of Lent is the last day that eggs and bacon can be eaten.  (Two foods that would go nice with pancakes on Tuesday).  Collop refers to frying meat.  Both Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday are part of the festive season that comes before the austere Lent.

February 25

February 25

The time leading up to Lent is also known as carnival season.  Carnival has the same word origin as the word carnivore.  Both words relate to meat.  Carnivore refers to meat-eaters.  Carnival refers to the giving up of meat for Lent.  Much like Mardi Gras celebrates the giving up of fat for Lent, carnival celebrates the giving up of meat for Lent.

February 24

Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday.  The name Shrove Tuesday comes from the tradition that Lent was a penitential period.  (Particularly in the middle ages and before the industrial revolution).  Many people would attend confession and be “shriven”.  Shriven –> Shrove.

February 23

The custom of eating pancakes (or similar food) on Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” arose out of the need to use up foods like butter that were generally not consumed during a Lenten fast.  While the word fast often conjures up the image of going totally without food what the fast entailed often varied from region to region.  Rather than total abstinence from food it was often not eating certain foods like dairy or meat and a general reduction in calories consumed.  Nowadays fasting is less common and often involves giving up a single food such as soft drinks or chocolate rather than larger scale limitations.

February 22

February 28th is Shrove Tuesday and marks the day before the start of Lent.  Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras.  The most famous Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S. takes places in New Orleans, Louisiana.