Early Easter brings logistical challenges, questions


GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — The work crews at the Crystal Cathedral finally removed the last of the set work and lights for the "Glory of Christmas" when they finally got some downtime in early January after the production's five-week run time. This year, though, they only had one week of respite before putting it all back together for the "Glory of Easter."

This is one of the results when Easter falls on March 23.

March 23?

Yes, indeed.

People are used to Easter migrating annually, but as early as March 23? Generally, Easter falls between late March and the first two weeks of April. I don't ever recall Easter landing on March 23, and I know I'd remember, because it's my wedding anniversary. This year marks 23 years. Two-plus decades and never greeted by Easter.

Although I love the idea of celebrating our marriage's beginning on the same day our Savior rose from the grave to give us eternal life, my cranial wheels started turning. Why hasn't Easter landed on our anniversary before? Like most Christians, I know very little about how Easter falls. That's why people buy calendars. I choose instead to focus on the wonderful mystery of Easter, not so much the mystery of when it arrives.

Still, I have the journalistic gene. A quick look at Wikipedia, and I discovered that a March 23 Easter is indeed rare. The last time it happened was 1913—a whopping 95 years. My grandmother was 7 years old. The next March 23 Easter won't come again until 2160—152 years.

But why?
The moon, Passover and the equinox
The Easter holiday is established by a formula that considers the lunar calendar. The earliest Easter can fall is on March 22; the latest is April 25. But even the church can't agree on the formula. The Western and Eastern churches use different calendars, the Gregorian and Julian, respectively. The general formula, according to Wikipedia, is that Easter falls on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. But that formula can also be flawed when you add the consideration of whether the full moon is astronomical or ecclesiastical. The Eastern church also adds the provision to its calendar that Easter must also fall after the Jewish observance of Passover. This year, the Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on April 27 more than a month after the Western Easter.

The unusual formula has created some interesting Easter trivia. According to Wikipedia the cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5.7 million years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times.

Centuries of tradition
Although confusing, the Rev. David Montzingo, assistant rector at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Del Cerro and a professor of Anglican studies at Bethel Seminary, said the selection dates for Easter are as simple as following a formula.

"It really is no mystery," he said. "Most people don't know the formula. They don't know when it's going to be unless they look at a calendar. It's a movable holiday. We always know it's going to move around … This has been the Roman custom on the way to celebrate Easter since the fourth and fifth centuries."

Over the centuries there have been attempts to establish a universal date for Easter, but to no avail. For a time, Celtic Christians celebrated Easter on every March 25, regardless on what day of the week it fell. That practice was abandoned, Montzingo said, after the Celtic church merged with Rome.

Still, even knowing the dates in advance can create a little crunch time for churches and their special events calendar. At St. Dunstan's Epiphany was just four weeks long, with Lent coming on Feb. 6.

"Our breathing space between Christmas and Lent was very small," he said. "The whole season of Lent is the preparation for the celebration of the crucifixion and the resurrection."

Lovin' the logistics
Sandy Boselo, the production manager for "Glory of Easter" understands. She's in charge of the production's logistics, an extravaganza that features more than 200 volunteer cast and crew members. The break between the set work, usually a month, was just a week this year. Their first rehearsal was scheduled for Feb. 25.

"We weren't caught too much by surprise," she said. "We have to plan the schedule about a year in advance. We knew the show was coming up early. It does give us kind of a time crunch. It's kind of crazy around here. There's not a lot of down time. Nobody usually even thinks about Easter until it's about here."

Responding to the shortened calendar, the "Glory of Easter" is shortening its run by one full week, with shows set March 13 to 22.

"We're doing it partly because Easter is so early this year," Boselo said.

While the early Easter may cause some frantic logistics across the country, spoiled Southern Californians may have one less worry than residents of more treacherous weather regions.

As a former Boston native, Montzingo said early Easter can play havoc for cold weather dwellers used to having the holiday usher in spring, especially "when you are considering canceling church because you have two feet of snow and the roads are closed."

While the calendar and weather may be uncertain for Easter, one thing is not—those nutritional yellow peeps should be on a store shelf near you.

P.S. Oh, and you still have more than two weeks to finish your taxes.

If you go
What: Glory of Easter

When: March 13 to 22

Where: Crystal Cathedral, 12141 Lewis St., Garden Grove

Tickets: $35 to $45. Several $20 discount nights are set for March 14 and 18 to 20. $2 discounts are available for seniors and children under 12 on non-$20 nights.

Information: (714) 54-GLORY or www.gloryofeaster.com